Saturday, January 29, 2011

Academically Adrift?

Some blog followers might be interested in a recent post “Academically Adrift?” [Hake (2011)]. The abstract reads:


ABSTRACT: In “Research on Physics First” [Hake (2011a)], I stated that reliance on course grades to measure college student learning has been shown to be invalid by research on physics education and on collegiate education generally as described in Academically Adrift

A subscriber responded privately (paraphrasing): “Do you know of any cogent responses to or analysis of “Academically Adrift”? The answer is NO, except for - see below - the (a) review by Jaschik (2011), (b) review by Vedder (2011), (c) synopses by the publisher, and (d) press release by the “Council for Aid to Education.”

But thanks for the excuse to jump back on my soapbox. In “The Physics Education Reform Effort: A Possible Model for Higher Education” [Hake (2005a)], I wrote:

“How then can we measure students’ higher-level learning in college courses? Several indirect (and therefore in my view problematic) gauges have been developed. . . . . .[and] Richard Hersh (2005) has discussed two types of direct measures developed by the Learning Assessment Project that evaluate students’ general thinking ability. But Shavelson & Huang (2003) warn that ‘learning and knowledge are highly domain-specific - as, indeed, is most reasoning. Consequently, THE DIRECT IMPACT OF COLLEGE IS MOST LIKELY TO BE SEEN [IN] DOMAIN-SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE AND REASONING.’ In sharp contrast to indirect and general-thinking measures listed above is the direct measure of students' higher-level domain-specific learning through [formative] pre/post testing using (a) valid and consistently reliable tests devised by disciplinary experts, and (b) traditional courses as controls. Such pre/post testing, pioneered by economists Paden & Moyer (1969) and physicists Halloun & Hestenes (1985a,b), is rarely employed in higher education, in part because of the tired old canonical objections prevalent ever since Cronbach & Furby’s (1970) ‘How we should measure ‘change’- or should we?’ - but see ‘Should We Measure Change? Yes!’ (Hake (2011b).”

Despite the naysayers and its apparent dismissal by a large segment of the evaluation community, formative pre/post testing is gradually gaining a foothold in introductory astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth sciences, economics, engineering, math, and physics courses - see Hake (2004a), National Academies (2009), and NCSU (2011) for references.


To access the complete 28 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University

Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands

President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References which Recognize the Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)

“A paradigm shift is taking hold in American higher education. In its briefest form, the paradigm that has governed our colleges is this: A college is an institution that exists to provide instruction. Subtly but profoundly we are shifting to a new paradigm: A college is an institution that exists to produce learning. This shift changes everything. It is both needed and wanted.”

Barr & Tagg (1995).

REFERENCES [URL’s shortened by and accessed on 29 Jan 2011.]

Arum, R. & J. Roksa. 2011. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. University of Chicago Press, publisher's information, including a synopsis and bio, are online at information at .

Barr, R.B. & J. Tagg. 1995. “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,” Change 27(6); 13-25, November/December; online as a 111 kB pdf at

Hake, R.R. 2011. “Academically Adrift?” online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 29 Jan 2011 10:00:09-0800 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to various discussion lists.

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