Archive for the 'technoskepticism' Category

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 »


June 9th 2012
Student evaluations of online courses: rife with hostility?

Posted under jobs & students & technoskepticism & the body & unhappy endings

In a recent conversation with a friend who’s teaching an online course for her university,* she commented that she’ll probably get really bad student evaluations again this summer, as she has in the two previous summers in which she’s taught online classes.  “I’m not a body to them,” she said, and therefore she thinks that the students feel freer to rip into her in their evaluations.  (Of course they may also be venting some frustration with the online course format itself, although they may not know enough about online classes and what they can expect from their instructors.)

It sure makes sense to me that much of the humor in the classroom–quotidian small talk before class starts, questions about a student’s health, expressions of concern for their well-being, banter about university politics or sports teams, asking for student opinion on a local issue, dumb jokes by the professor–well, all of that is pretty much drained out of online courses.  I hadn’t really thought about this until my friend made her observation about how much lower she’s rated in her online courses versus her F2F courses, but I think much of this kind of communication between students and instructors, and vice-versa, and among the students themselves–all of this non-content related, non-subject relevant communication is going to have a major impact as to how a student experiences a class emotionally.  Continue Reading »


May 31st 2012
Class notes

Posted under students & technoskepticism & unhappy endings

A correspondent writes:

So I’m attending a class on Hume’s Treatise this term and often sit diagonally behind a young man who uses his laptop to “take notes.”  Last week he was reviewing lectures and taking a quiz *for an online class* while he was in the live action philosophy class. 


Now that’s what I would call efficient!  Not efficient for learning, but rather an efficient way to spend your tuition money.  Who wants to bet that the student in question will also expect the proffie in the F2F class to post hir lecture notes online too, so that they can be reviewed in still yet another class?  (P.S.  This is why I never post lecture notes online or on Blackboard, and don’t share them at all unless a student has a documented medical problem preventing them from attending class or a documented learning disability.) Continue Reading »


April 29th 2012
If online education is the answer, what’s the question?

Posted under American history & students & technoskepticism & unhappy endings & wankers

As I understand it, the arguments about and within higher education boil down to this conundrum:

College is just a waste of time and money, and neither students, parents, nor taxpayers are getting their money’s worth at traditional brick-and-mortar nonprofit unis.  So let’s spend government money on the kind of education at the kind of institutions that show the lowest return on investment (as measured by alumni employment rates and loan repayment rates):  online education and/or for-profit universities. Continue Reading »


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