Archive for July, 2012

July 11th 2012
Twice in a Lifetime

Posted under childhood & Dolls & fluff & happy endings

For Madeline, with all our love.

Here’s one for Madeline and Annabel: Continue Reading »


July 10th 2012
Thoughts from our common Jonathon

Posted under American history & students & technoskepticism

Today’s post is a guest post from a random commenter on the internets, Jonathon Booth.  I have no idea who this person is, so take it for what it’s worth, but I thought his comment on my previous post deserved highlighting and perhaps further discussion.  I hope he’ll check in and comment further:

Having taken a number of online business courses from a reputable university (long story), I’ve come to the conclusion that they are utter garbage. First of all, they are made as easy as possible—which is their primary appeal to students. I took a second year course, and the entire grade was based on weekly reading of one textbook chapter and answering about 10 simple questions from the book. The amount of actual knowledge I gained from these courses was next to nothing, but I did manage to get As in almost all of them. Second, and certainly more important, the students that get the most out of online courses are the students who are already self motivated to learn. The difference between taking an online calculus class and simply buying a calculus textbook and teaching yourself is minimal. This of course puts students who need a bit of extra motivation—even just a professor’s disappointment at their missing class—at a distinct disadvantage. Third, the classes are usually over-enrolled, and the part-time adjunct faculty (who I assume are making next to nothing to teach the classes) never seem to care very much. The whole thing is very rote and is a pathetic imitation of higher education. Continue Reading »


July 7th 2012
Hot and cranky: and yourselves? Mooks pushing MOOCs.

Posted under American history & jobs & students & technoskepticism & wankers


I just can’t wait to take an online course!

This story is why I just can’t take seriously the claims that online teaching is teh awesumm future.  Nobody pushing this crap knows the first thing about much of anything beyond their own disciplines plus some $hit they read about in Wired magazine back in 1998.

First of all, we have the Stanford University professor and student who clearly have no idea that American higher education is enormously diverse and has evolved over the past two hundred years with little things like the Morrill Act, and that there are things like liberal arts colleges (secular and sectarian), community colleges, public directionals, state flagships, and Agricultural and Mechanical colleges like my employer:

In spring  2005, preparing for that autumn’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor of robotics, and David Stavens, his undergraduate protégé, arrived in the desert for several months of off-road testing. In tow was their Volkswagen Touareg, “Stanley,” a vehicle that can drive itself.

The Grand Challenge called on American university students to build robotic cars and race them, unassisted, across 131 miles of unforgiving desert scrub, over salt flats and down the treacherous Beer Bottle Pass. The contest was sponsored by the US department of defence, which hopes one day to send driverless vehicles into battle. Thrun and Stavens were counting on Stanley, more than a year in the making, to take home the $2m cash prize. But Stanley—its trunk packed with computers, sprouting radar and GPS antennae from its roof rack—needed a careful debugging.

“We happened to be in the car a lot, doing nothing else but waiting,” Thrun said recently. “Then something would go wrong and one of us would code like crazy. And during those times often there was really nothing to do, so we chatted a lot.”

Bouncing around the desert with their $150,000 toy, Stavens recalls, privilege was a frequent topic of conversation. “It would come up at night, in the hotel rooms of these very small towns we were staying in. ‘This has been a great system for us, higher education, but it’s kind of broken. What can we do?’”

It’s to their credit that they talked about privilege–after all, how many undergrads (or even professors!) get to tool around in the desert for months at a time with a robotic car?  I suppose that’s the kind of bubble of privilege that would make you forget–or believe that it’s irrelevant–that American higher education is not Stanford or nothing.  But doesn’t this make online courses sound like the dream of Judy Jetson’s flying car?  Continue Reading »


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