Archive for the 'technoskepticism' Category

October 3rd 2012
Arne Duncan: quite possibly the dopiest Secretary of Education we’ve ever seen

Posted under American history & childhood & class & jobs & local news & students & technoskepticism

Yesterday, Arne Duncan announced that he wants all schoolchildren to switch to electronic textbooks as fast as possible.  Because:  South Korea!  Or something.

Apparently (and unsurprisingly!) he hasn’t talked to any teachers or student teachers recently, many of whom don’t even have enough of the boring, old codex technology to send books home with their students so they can read and do homework at home, or anywhere outside of class.  A grad student of mine told me that when she did her student teaching in the Big Thompson school district last spring in Loveland, Colorado, this was the reality she was expected to cope with.  Oh, yeah:  she also said that half the students didn’t have internet access at home, so she and her cooperating teacher couldn’t assign them any online reading or schoolwork outside of class, and they had no budget for photocopies either. Continue Reading »


September 29th 2012
MOOCs for Mooks: local proffie takes one out for a spin

Posted under jobs & local news & students & technoskepticism & women's history

You know what I’ve been thinking?  More of you should read Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk.  Here’s why:  the man shows a commitment to explaining why if the future of higher ed is online, then the future of the republic is a dim one.  (See for example his riff on selling As based on Michael Moore’s question, “Why doesn’t GM sell crack?”)  While some of us just  rip something out of the mailbag, or rant about politics, or put up a YouTube of a song we heard in yoga this week, Jonathan has signed up for a MOOC and is posting regularly on the results.

Here’s his reportage so far on Princeton Proffie Jeremy Adelman’s World History course:


September 24th 2012
Academic job ads, translated

Posted under jobs & technoskepticism & unhappy endings

This is a winning and productive use of social media (h/t to ej, who sent me the link.)  Here’s my favorite, of course:

[The] University of Virginia seeks Professor of English with specialty in “educational” technology for setting up MOOCs. Position will be responsible for attracting national attention with bombastic, unproven claims about the future of education; ideal candidate will be heavily read in David Brooks.

Busy day here, so go find your own!



September 4th 2012
Too many d00dly nutsacks: I want out.

Posted under Gender & jobs & students & technoskepticism

I’m thinking about running away!

Meanwhile, for those of you who just can’t bear a pure “fluff” post with a pretty young woman instead of a smelly ballsack or a contaminating application of menstrual blood, here’s some food for thought.  Via reader and commenter Susan, Adam F. Falk, President of Williams College, writes “In Defense of the Living, Breathing Professor:”

Most of us in higher education take the long view about the value of what we do. Sure, students graduate with plenty of facts in their heads. But the transmission of information is merely the starting point, a critical tool through which we engage the higher faculties of the mind.

What really matters is the set of deeper abilities—to write effectively, argue persuasively, solve problems creatively, adapt and learn independently—that students develop while in college and use for the rest of their lives.

At Williams College, where I work, we’ve analyzed which educational inputs best predict progress in these deeper aspects of student learning. The answer is unambiguous: By far, the factor that correlates most highly with gains in these skills is the amount of personal contact a student has with professors. Not virtual contact, but interaction with real, live human beings, whether in the classroom, or in faculty offices, or in the dining halls. Nothing else—not the details of the curriculum, not the choice of major, not the student’s GPA—predicts self-reported gains in these critical capacities nearly as well as how much time a student spent with professors. Continue Reading »


July 18th 2012
Our colleagues, ourselves

Posted under fluff & jobs & students & technoskepticism

GayProf is back, and he’s got another hilarious quiz for all of you proffie types, “Collegial is as Collegial Does.”  Here’s a little flava:

My office:

Best: “Is a place where I work quietly.”

Fair: “Is a place where I meet students from time to time.”

Bad: “Is a place where I can really turn up the volume on my music.”

Evil: “Smells suspiciously of sulphur.”

.       .       .       .       .

The role model who influenced my career:

Best: “The hardworking professors who took an interest in me as a student. They not only taught me the knowledge that I need for this job, but also what it means to be a committed educator.”

Fair: “Wonder Woman.”

Bad: “I did it on my own. Nobody ever helped me and I was always falling through the cracks.”

Evil: “Pope Benedict XVI.”

Honestly?  I would rate myself “fair” for the most part.  Continue Reading »


July 17th 2012
Didn’t any of these people live through the dot-bomb of 2000?

Posted under American history & students & technoskepticism & wankers

But this time everything will be different!  Reader Indyanna points us to a New York Times article that’s even fuller of fatuousness.

The great thing about being middle-aged is that you’ve heard it all before, and you can’t believe the rubes are falling for it all over again.  Remember those heady days of 1998 and 1999, when everyone was sure that the internet changed everything, and that we were all internet millionaires-to-be or stupid suckers who didn’t clearly perceive the bright future just around the corner?  Remember when we were promised the wonders of ordering groceries online?  (Who ever did that more than once, anyway?)  When we were assured that bricks-and-mortar stores (as they were condescendingly referred to) were soon to become like the abandoned caverns of a lost Atlantis because we’d be buying all of our stuff online?

Most of the breathless excitement was rooted in the fact that most people chose to ignore the fact that the same exact infrastructure is required to buy your books, your yoga mats, and your nephew’s birthday present at Amazon as you need to schlep to a store yourself and pick something up:  petroleum, pavement, and trucks, not to mention a gazillion miles of warehouse space in repositories around North America to hold all of that not-yet-purchased stuff.  And guess what?  It turns out that you need bricks and mortar for those warehouses, too.  And it also turns out that driving, walking, or biking to a store to evaluate the merchandise, whether it’s a new bathing suit or a bunch of parsley, and make your purchasing decisions on the spot is usually less wasteful and more efficient than having UPS deliver everything to your door (and/or return your merchandise because it doesn’t fit, doesn’t work, or doesn’t look right.) 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 »


June 26th 2012
Wildfires, cities, rural landscapes, and the wildland-urban interface

Posted under American history & childhood & European history & local news & technoskepticism & unhappy endings

Stay out of the woods, my pretties!

In a very smart and measured editorial last Sunday in the Denver Post, Professor Lloyd Burton of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado, Denver, pointed out how language shapes our views of wildfires and forest management:

We have three problems with our narrative: First, it is an urban narrative applied to a mostly rural landscape; that is, it reports on [wildland-urban interface] wildfires as if they were urban fires. The initial focus is always on proximate causes (what ignited the fire), followed by a quest for fault-finding, usually around the issues of why the fire wasn’t immediately eradicated or why everyone may not have been moved out of harm’s way.

Applying the urban narrative to the WUI also stresses the necessity for the immediate and total suppression of all fires, whenever and wherever they arise. In the urban context, this is absolutely understandable. To do anything other than that would invite catastrophe in our densely populated cities. But applying this urban expectation to WUI wildfires is both futile and inappropriate.

A second problem is that the news media mindset and resulting language of its discourse is saturated in metaphors of war. We are treated daily to visuals of ex-military aircraft bombing fires and structures with toxic fire-retardant. We have strong, courageous, well-trained and well-disciplined “fighters” in the field being coordinated by a top-down incident command system; and we use many of the same communications technologies and terms to implement tactical field maneuvers. Continue Reading »


June 20th 2012
Mudwoman in Virginia?

Posted under American history & art & book reviews & childhood & Dolls & Gender & jobs & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers & weirdness & women's history

Howdy, friends.  Since I’ve been living in the long eighteenth century for the past week or so, at least in my own head, I haven’t been consuming either print or electronic news as I usually do.  But several of you have written to ask my opinions on the unexpected and untimely cashiering of the President of the University of Virginia, Teresa A. Sullivan, last week.  As many of you know much better than I, Sullivan had been prez for only two years, and was the first woman chosen to lead Mr. Jefferson’s university.  This morning, I read something that several of you (in person and via e-mail) had already suggested to me, namely that forces on the university’s Board of Visitors against Sullivan were peeved at her resistance to online education.  (Earlier this week, other reporting suggested that Sullivan was perceived as reluctant to cut low enrollment programs such as German and Classics.)

I’m really grateful to you readers for the e-mails and the prodding on this, but since I’m actually making some research and writing progress this week on my own irrelevant and self-indulgent intellectual work, I’d like to turn the conversation over to you.  Some of you who have written to me have UVA connections, so feel free to discuss the Sullivan firing and its causes and consequences. Continue Reading »


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