Monday, April 08, 2013

MoAR: don't worry, as there's plenty of bad news.

maybe i've been in a bad mood this week .. but all i came across was bad news for this roundup. read on, though: you might have a different opinion.

not retractions in the sense of topology, but ..

it's nice to know that the public can still trust the scientists.
"Retraction rates have increased tenfold in the past decade after many years of stability. According to a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, two-thirds of all retractions follow from scientific misconduct: fraud, duplicate publication, and plagiarism."

~ from "Science research: three problems that point to a communications crisis" @the_guardian

teaching how as well as what.

the following excerpt on teaching struck a chord in me. even though the subject discussed is english and literature, i couldn't help but see similarities.
"With a fresh, redefined sense of literacy I reasoned that if I was to become an English teacher, I needed to teach more than words. More than Shakespeare. More than poetic devices and literature.

I was to teach literacy—the heuristic process of seeing and doing, which would lead to an ultimate sense of empowerment.

And literacy (newly refreshed as an idealistic, and maybe unfortunate, model of democracy) could be broken down, I decided, into this heuristic process of looking for oneself. It could pull education out of the institutionalized gutter.

~ from "Heuristics, Literacy, and Interfaces" @medium
one of the many responsiblities of teaching, i think, is how we train the next generation. our courses may have specific content and topics, but there is also the synergy and the larger picture, in how it all fits together. it disturbs me to know that most students think of linear algebra and calculus and differential equations [1] all as separate worlds that have nothing to do with each other, but instead each a handful of tricks that seem to work.

there is something fundamental here. for better or worse, it seems that mathematics educators are the ones who are tasked to teach logic and problem-solving strategies to untrained audiences. we are often exasperated because "our students just don't think" .. but to be fair, how many of us actually take the time and show them how to think?

the market can (and will probably) break you.

the next excerpt is also from the literary academic's viewpoint, but the reaction is telling for all of us.
"When this happens to you—after you have mailed, at your own expense, the required 60-page dossiers to satellite campuses of Midwestern or Southern universities of which you have never heard; after you endure a deafening silence from most of these institutions but then receive hope in the form of a paltry few conference interviews; after you fork out $1,000 to spend your Christmas amid thousands of your competitors at the Modern Language Association convention; after said convention, where you endure tribunal-style interviews in hotel suites where you are often made to perch in your ill-fitting suit on the edge of a bed; after, perhaps, being invited to a callback interview at a remote Midwestern or Southern campus where your entire person will be judged on the basis of two meals and one presentation; after, at the end of all this, they give the job to an inside candidate they were planning to hire all along—when this happens, and it will, it will feel as if the entirety of your human self has been rejected because you are no good ..."

~ from "Thesis Hatement" @slate
this reaction says it better than i could ever say (and i've tried too). maybe we academics are thinner-skinned than those in other jobs. maybe the job search has always been this way: painful, soul-wrenching, and leading to failure for most of us.

that still doesn't change how i feel or how this particular writer feels. despite things having "worked out" for now, i still feel raw, unsettled, and embittered.

students: customers or commodities?

this strikes me as a strange analogy to make.
"Technological advances have allowed the auto industry, for instance, to produce more cars while using fewer workers. Professors, meanwhile, still do things more or less as they have for centuries: talking to, questioning, and evaluating students (ideally in relatively small groups).
But one reason to think we’re on the cusp of major change is that online courses are particularly well- suited to the new rhythms of student life. On traditional campuses, many students already regard time offline as a form of solitary confinement. Classrooms have become battlegrounds where professors struggle to distract students from their smartphones and laptops. Office hours are giving way to e-mail.

~ from "Will online education dampen the college experience?" @newrepublic
thinking about it now, it's probably true that the modern university is essentially a factory and that the most successful ones are those which deliver the most quality goods to the market. i would just prefer not to refer to human beings as commodities, that's all. it's funny: when i was younger, i was naive enough to think that universities were centers of higher learning [2].

that aside, in general i found the article well-written and with a very broad scope, yet able to "zoom in" to aspects of this issue that are problematic (for either camp).

admittedly, though: articles like this are starting to get repetitive. maybe i should stop posting this kind of thing.

what i would really like to hear is what the behavioral psychologists and the neuroscientists have to say about this. more precisely, i want experts in human learning to say what they know (or don't know) about the situation, and what (more) information we would need to figure it out. if, for example, the flexibility of MOOCs allows for students to improve their knowledge retention, then great! if, however, this same flexibility causes a lack of study commitment and actually lowers graduation rates, then .. fvck.

.. and one library to rule them all?

throughout 5 years of a ph.d. and 4½ years of postdoc life i've sent my share of articles (in pdf) to colleagues, when their university libraries didn't have the same journal access as mind did. i've asked for a few, myself ..

.. and it's always frustrating to ask this kind of thing, if only because of the underlying reason: as a researcher, why can't i have the resources i need to do my job?

maybe this forthcoming phenomenon will change things, give us one less obstruction.
"The Digital Public Library of America, to be launched on April 18, is a project to make the holdings of America’s research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans—and eventually to everyone in the world—online and free of charge.

Forty states have digital libraries, and the DPLA’s service hubs—seven are already being developed in different parts of the country—will contribute the data those digital libraries have already collected to the national network. Among other activities, these service hubs will help local libraries and historical societies to scan, curate, and preserve local materials—Civil War mementos, high school yearbooks, family correspondence, anything that they have in their collections or that their constituents want to fetch from trunks and attics.

~ from "The National Digital Public Library Is Launched!" @NYReview
it is both a useful and a noble thing, to grant everyone equal access to knowledge and educational materials .. provided, of course, that everyone has internet access.

(this isn't always the case, as i've mentioned here and here.)

aside from that point, though, there is another: public libraries in the united states are not doing well. in these seasons of austerity and budget cuts, it is the schools and libraries that are put first at the chopping block. in taking one of their services and hosting it elsewhere, we may have just diluted their unique flavors and made their existence a little more precarious ..

[1] i would prefer to say analysis, algebra, and topology. the fact is: most of our students take only the entry level courses as requirements for a non-mathematical program of study. (my proof happens to be empirical: just look at course listings for your university on an average semester.)

[2] i guess the driving mechanism here is tuition, so it's probably not fair to call students "commodities." instead, they're more like customers; they pay for a chance to prove themselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

on the job interviews/hiring: the fact that academics are unusual in that they are hired by their peers and not by HR/bosses plays a major role in candidate despair. It is not some twit in HR or disconnected authority rejecting the candidate, it is one's peers. I think this makes it sting a bit more.