Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category


Big Data and the End of Theory

October 5, 2012

The case here is way overstated, but I think the fundamental point is sound, and breathtaking. (You’re going to give me significant push-back here, Anke, I’m sure, though!)

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

So proclaimed statistician George Box 30 years ago, and he was right. But what choice did we have? Only models, from cosmological equations to theories of human behavior, seemed to be able to consistently, if imperfectly, explain the world around us. Until now. Today companies like Google, which have grown up in an era of massively abundant data, don’t have to settle for wrong models. Indeed, they don’t have to settle for models at all.

One thing I already see changing is that there’s a much shorter distance even in the humanities between data and analysis, a distance that used to be covered by theory. Or maybe I’m out to lunch. In my classroom, though, my students and I spend much less time hypothesizing and much more time analyzing. “The End of Theory”? Certainly not. The transformation of the role of theory, perhaps.


Digital culture and cheating

September 8, 2012

The citation of the Harvard situation in the first paragraph of this NYT story tells you much of what you need to know. That wasn’t cheating, in fact, and what these studies really reflect is how the execrable design of school is finally coming back to bite us in the posterior.

Large-scale cheating has been uncovered over the last year at some of the nation’s most competitive schools, like Stuyvesant High Schoolin Manhattan, the Air Force Academy and, most recently, Harvard.

The Harvard situation is a particularly good example, where it would seem an instructor had stumbled upon a way of doing actual formative assessment with a collaborative element, and then decided he had to revoke it; when the students continued on to do the well-designed activity, they were accused of cheating.

What does this have to do with digital culture? For me, digital culture is all about the information flows, and it’s the information flows that are leaving school behind.


And off we are again…

September 5, 2012

It’s been a while, I admit it. It’s been a fun summer, a very sunny summer, too sunny for some. We took a break, sorted some things out, including how to move on with the blog. And here we are again. Away from the sun, at the computer, into our projects. Welcome to a new semester! And welcome back readers.

I’d have a lot to say about Roger’s last blog, on the new aesthetic, but given that this is the digital era his last comment lies a steep number of light years away. So I’ll let it go. We can revisit this again later, Roger… And throw myself head first into the many buzzes on campus and the various worlds in which I participate, including the ongoing hoopla concerning all things digital humanities. Over the summer Steven Park’s web site has morphed into the go-to place for dighum info, Tim Hunter’s Digital Media Center is now linked to the new Dept. of Digital Media & Design, and over my son’s potluck picnic in Middle School I hear about THE cloud to be in at UConn – the virtual PC. Free software – who can resist? Leave it to Cathy Davidson to start your semester off with some serious thoughts on how to rally the digital media masses to finalize your syllabus. And if you’ve done all that and your classes are off to an excellent start, digital or analog, check out your chances to become editor-at-large at Digital Humanities Now so that you really do stay informed! What’s not to love about staying out of the sun?


Online learning: an issue of design

February 24, 2012

My favorite bits of this manifesto, from online instructors at the University of Edinburgh, are the ones about design.

Every course design is philosophy and belief in action.

Note that that doesn’t say “Every online course design.” For me, it’s a very small step from there to recognizing that instructional design and game design can and should be isomorphic.


The Chronicle’s tech-happy rebooter

February 15, 2012

This one is getting shared a lot. The Chronicle titles it “A tech happy professor reboots,” but my favorite part of this lamentable Chroniclism is that if you actually read the article, you can see that Wesch is actually saying that it’s the design that matters, whether you’re talking about f2f or online.

It was not an isolated incident. As other professors he met described their plans to follow his example, he suspected their classes would also flop. “They would just be inspired to use blogs and Twitter and technology, but the No. 1 thing that was missing from it was a sense of purpose.”


The ‘Pickle Guys’ route

February 15, 2012

Daniel de Vise writes at the Washington Post: 

…education will go the ‘Amazon route’ or the ‘eBay route.’ Under the Amazon model of education, the focus will be on service delivery. One or two large providers will emerge from the rubble and provide courses much as Amazon does. Courses will be in the millions, with different providers, some celebrities (the Stephen King of lecturers) and some not. Pricing will thus be equally complex. Professors and courses will be rated, and you will be able to see the top 100 courses that help you learn to program, for instance…

How about the ‘Pickle Guys route’? (Specialty merchandise priced accordingly.) The only way to scale “courses” this way is direct instruction. Higher-order learning requires faculty/student contact. Online courses that work involve MORE faculty/student contact than traditional face-to-face ones.


Scratching your head about that strange use of “flipped”?

February 8, 2012

As in “flipped class”? This post from CoreDogs may revolutionize your teaching practice. Add some game-based goodness, and you’ve got my teaching practice. Yes, it threatens people; yes, it makes you feel like you’re actually helping students learn, rather than showing off your own brilliance (though you still get to do that–I promise).

Outside class, students learn concepts, and then do exercises. They submit their work over the Web. They get fast feedback. When class meets (maybe 1 hour per week, rather than 3 hours for a regular college class), the instructor gives students personal, one-on-one help.


MOOC’s and the future of online learning

February 4, 2012

I seriously heart Inside Higher Ed. I don’t understand why more people don’t look at data they way they do, but thank the gods for their willingness to be empirical.

Massively Open Online Courses are not the future. Here’s the problem, which I think even the linked piece glosses over: live instructors are going to continue to be absolutely essential to scaffold students toward competencies. Khan videos are direct instruction; there are no interactive tools that can assess competency in skills above the first two levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (pretty much “tell me what you just watched/read”). That’s the real problem with MOOC’s. Online learning just won’t scale the way they think it will, I’m convinced, whether it’s GBL, PBL, or whiteboard videos.

The shift from “clock hours” or “seat time” to competency-based learning is just around the corner and much more fundamental to higher education than the explosion of online delivery itself. Awarding credits and degrees based on assessed competencies will significantly reduce time to completion and therefore increase completion rates and return on investment. More important, it ensures that students actually have mastered the set of competencies represented by the degree they have earned. Though not without significant challenges, this approach has the potential to revolutionize degree programs and all of higher education from within. That’s the real Wonderland adventure.  And we don’t need to take a pill to find it.


The implications for our graduate programs of such things as forking

February 4, 2012

We need to start teaching our graduate students differently.

“Many of these students,” the authors wrote, “will not find tenure-track positions teaching history in colleges and universities”—and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise. The job market “is what it is.” We face no “transient ‘crisis,'” but rather “the situation that we have lived with for two generations.”

That’s the president and executive director of the American Historical Association, quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Digital media and digital culture didn’t create the problem, though one sometimes thinks that one’s colleagues think so, so disdainful are some of them of the engagement with the present that does in fact pose a mortal threat to the traditional, now-nearly-useless, humanities PhD. Rather, digital media presents one of the solutions: digital humanists will be trained in things like database management; in online-community development; dare I say, in sophisticated coding?

Personally, I have a hope that the PhD itself will either transform so as not to include the kind of dissertation that now provides its ultimate certification, or will decrease so far and so visibly in usefulness that the people we hire will rarely have one. But if the structure of the ancient degree is to remain essentially the same, the concerns voiced in the linked article can no longer be ignored.


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