Colleges and universities should make their formal in-class student
evaluations of teaching (SET) data publicly available online to provide
more accurate ratings than the more informal assessments currently on
the Web, conclude two University of Maine researchers after conducting a
comparative analysis of RateMyProfessors.com and SET data.
In what is considered the first study of its kind, Theodore Coladarci,
professor of educational psychology, and Irv Kornfield, professor of
biology and molecular forensics, analyzed the correlation between the
traditional higher education assessment method and the popular
RateMyProfessors.com, the self-described largest listing of college
professor ratings on the Internet. Their findings were published last
May in the electronic journal Practical Assessment, Research &
Many professors oppose the publication of SET data because of concerns
about privacy and other potential negative consequences. But without the
release of SET results, students rely on what is publicly available,
such as RateMyProfessors.com, which can mischaracterize the true
standing of many instructors, according to Coladarci and Kornfield.
RateMyProfessors.com, established in 1999, allows
students to anonymously post 5-point instructor ratings in three
categories — helpfulness, clarity, and easiness — and to provide general
comments. Coladarci and Kornfield compared SET and RateMyProfessors.com
(RMP) ratings of 426 UMaine faculty and found that two RMP indices —
overall quality (the average of the helpfulness and clarity ratings) and
ease — correlated "substantively and significantly" with their SET
counterparts. For example, the researchers found that when an
instructor's RMP overall quality rating was particularly high, "one can
infer that the instructor 'truly' is regarded as a laudatory teacher,"
as measured by SET.
However, there is considerable uncertainty about the
instructor's true status when the RMP overall quality rating is anything
less than stellar. The researchers also note that RMP indices may be
more trustworthy when based on many posts, but the fact remains that the
Web-based assessments lack quality control, including the ability to
satisfactorily represent an institution's student body. Because of this,
Coladarci and Kornfield suggest that universities make their teaching
evaluations publicly available.
Through their lifetimes, amphibians move within and
between habitats for a variety of reasons, including breeding, summer
foraging and overwintering. But just how they navigate in their travels
Studies of spotted salamanders, and red-bellied and
red-spotted newts, have documented the use of direct cues, like scenting
water — directly detecting a resource they are seeking. Other lab-based
research has explored the use of indirect cues for orientation, like the
location of sunrise or detection of magnetic fields.
Now University of Maine scientists have found what
may be the first evidence of the use of indirect cues by juvenile wood
frogs in the wild. Just what those indirect cues are, and how soon they
manifest prior to or during emergence from the natal pool, remains
UMaine researchers studied 400 wood frog tadpoles
from a pond where emerging metamorphs travel northeast to a forested
wetland. When the tadpoles were relocated to a new pool with a southwest
wetland, most of the animals emerged and continued to head northeast,
retaining the same directionality as at the site where they hatched.
The results raise concerns that amphibians like wood
frogs that rely on indirect cues could have less adaptability to habitat
changes. Such inflexibility could lead frogs into ecological traps,
according to UMaine wildlife ecologists David Patrick and Malcolm
Hunter, and wetlands ecologist Aram Calhoun, writing in the Journal of
People exaggerate what it took for them to succeed
at a task in order to enhance or maintain their self-esteem, according
to research by two social psychologists.
In four studies, three involving college students
and one surveying psychology professors, psychologists Scott Eidelman of
the University of Maine and Monica Biernat of the University of Kansas
found that people are likely to cite more stringent standards for
success. College students who met their exam standards and academics who
earned tenure both exaggerated what it took to accomplish their goals,
presumably as a means to deflect concerns about competence.
The researchers also found greater standard raising
among those who succeed if their self-esteem is threatened, implying
that the reasoning for exaggeration is a need to feel good about
ourselves and our accomplishments.
"Standard raising is a strategy to use when success
is achieved but competence is questioned," wrote the researchers in a
recent issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
"Because raised standards imply greater ability and effort, performers
feel better about their accomplishments. In this way, they may get more
from their successes."
The National Institute of Mental Health funded the
In the world of business, the success of a firm
hinges on maximizing its value — and reputation. But the reality is that
a good reputation doesn't guarantee that all the firm's actions will be
good for all concerned, including those deeds valued most by the primary
beneficiaries or stakeholders.
Thus, the basic dilemma: What or who should
management act for? And what normative guides should it reference in
Two professors of management suggest one basic
normative criterion by which firms could seek both bottom-line success
and responsible behavior toward stakeholders. That benchmark — the best
of all possible worlds for business — is reputational optimality,
according to Barry Mitnick of the Katz Graduate School of Management at
the University of Pittsburgh and John Mahon of the University of Maine
Business School, writing recently in the Journal of Business Ethics.
Such "reputational bliss" is possible when all
externally held reputations of the organization are positive, the result
of using moral directives to guide decisionmaking, according to the
In our society, Mitnick and Mahon point out, a
reputation based on moral grounds is more valued and stable than one
built solely on outcomes, including distribution of benefits. A firm is
more likely to use moral directives to guide its actions if it is
closely observed and in a highly competitive economic environment, and
if its corporate leaders have authentic moral beliefs that demonstrate
corporate integrity. Firms also will choose moral directives when the
choice advances their reputations in the eyes of stakeholders.
Turning Potatoes into Plastic
Maine potatoes may be destined for more than the
deep fryer if Maine-based manufacturer InterfaceFABRIC has its way.
The company, which currently uses biodegradable
fiber made from polylactic acid (PLA) in corn, contracted the University
of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Center to determine if Maine potatoes
could be used instead as a starch source for the plastic production. The
study found that the costs associated with converting potatoes would be
similar to the current costs of converting corn, and would require
little or no start-up or equipment costs for Maine's potato growers.
The research, conducted by Kate Dickerson of the
Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and Jonathan Rubin of the Smith
Center and UMaine's Department of Resource Economics and Policy further
found that InterfaceFABRIC's current demand for PLA could be met using
below-grade potatoes and potato waste from processing once tools and
techniques are developed.
If produced, the new potato-based plastics would be
nontoxic, biodegradable and renewable, unlike the many petroleum-based
plastics currently in use.
Insight Lite: giddyap
At the University of Maine Aquaculture Research
Center, Ph.D. student Søren Hansen is raising mostly clownfish and
dottybacks. But he's also researching ways to cultivate seahorses, those
cryptic little creatures with plant-like bodies that allow them to hide
in aquatic grasses; camouflage is their best defense against predators.
Seahorses boast a variety of other fascinating characteristics,
according to Hansen:
Seahorses mate for life.
They are able to change color to blend into
habitats and hide.
They like to swim in pairs by intertwining their
Seahorses eat by sucking plankton and fish larvae
through their tiny mouths at the ends of their snouts. Those at UMaine
like to eat their food from small bowls placed at the bottom of their
They move by beating their tiny dorsal fins nearly
as fast as a hummingbird beats its wings.
Females deposit their eggs in a special pouch on
the male, where the babies grow until it is time for them to be born.
A seahorse can move each of its eyes
independently, focusing in two directions.
Their genus name, Hippocampus, is Greek for "bent
horse." UMaine researchers are raising common and lined seahorses, two
of an estimated 35 species in the world.
UMaine's class opera: Figaro
Preparations have begun to bring The Marriage of
Figaro to the Hauck Auditorium stage in February — and to classrooms
across campus this fall.
Figaro is UMaine's first-ever "class opera"
in a project that melds the inspiration of a class book with the
University of Maine's operatic roots. The Mozart opera, to be sung in
English, will tap the talents of music, theater and dance students and
faculty throughout the School of Performing Arts. It also will be the
springboard for discussions in courses on history, philosophy,
sociology, women's studies, political science and French literature.
One goal is to involve as many performing arts
students as possible "for a true school-wide production," says Stuart
Marrs, chair of the Division of Music in the School of Performing Arts.
In addition, other liberal arts classes are picking up on the opera's
references to such topics as pre-French Revolution history, class
struggle and Enlightenment philosophy.
Also scheduled around Figaro are guest
lectures, study guides and postshow discussions with the cast, crew and
"Productions like this have the potential to bring
everyone — students, faculty and departments —together," says Professor
of Theatre Tom Mikotowicz, the stage director for Figaro.
Figaro revives UMaine's classic opera tradition
that, up until the late 1980s, featured an annual production. It also
honors the long academic and performance career of music professor Lud
Hallman, who has taught at UMaine since 1970 and will be Figaro's
To help keep tons of medications out of the
environment and away from children, the University of Maine Center on
Aging has launched a pharmaceuticals return program with a $150,000
grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The mail-back pilot project is expected to remove
1.5 tons of unused over-the-counter and prescription medications from
homes or the waste stream, according to Len Kaye, director of the Center
on Aging. It also is the first step in implementing the Maine Unused
Pharmaceutical Disposal Project, adopted by the state legislature in
An estimated 6,000 postage-paid mailers are now
available to the public through participating pharmacies in four
counties. In addition, an educational campaign is focusing on the
hazards caused by the improper storage and disposal of unused
The Maine project includes an inventory of the types
and quantities of drugs being returned. The inventory data could be used
by the medical community to change prescription practices in an effort
to reduce the incidence of unused medications in people's homes.
The Maine mail-back and inventory aspects of the
program are firsts in the country, according to EPA Project Officer
Typically, unused, unneeded or expired medications
are flushed down toilets or thrown in the trash, and ultimately can make
their way into the environment. Since compounds in many medications are
destroyed only through incineration, they often pass through landfill
and wastewater treatment plants, and end up in waterways and
Unused and unneeded drugs stored in homes also can
wind up in the hands of children or thieves.
Halting hazing: update
University of Maine researchers Elizabeth Allan and
Mary Madden have moved into the second phase of their groundbreaking
research on hazing with a survey of more than 14,000 full-time
undergraduate students from 52 institutions from across the country —
the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind. Allan and Madden
hope the results of the survey will shed new light on the type and
frequency of hazing behaviors, and students' perceptions regarding such
"One important discovery that we made in the pilot
survey is that our definition of hazing and the students' definitions
are not the same. This latest survey and the associated student
interviews are aimed at helping us better understand how students
perceive hazing on campus," says Madden.
"Our goal is to make a difference in terms of the
culture of hazing on postsecondary campuses, and we need to fully
understand the students' views in order to have an impact."
The final results of their comprehensive, nationwide
survey are currently being tabulated as Allan and Madden work toward
developing recommendations for addressing the problem of hazing in