Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Follow up on today's interview session

First - I screwed up. I didn't hit the play button to record the audio. So there is no recording of the session. That is really too bad because it was a good and lively session.

Second, there is learning by watching on how to conduct these things, but also note that there were some things that won't replicate in the other interviews. Every one of the invited guests today enjoys giving voice to their opinions. They couldn't have the job they do without that. But this meant that in some sense they took over the discussion and our panelists, who did a good job when they had the chance, talked much less than likely will be the case in the subsequent interviews. It was almost as if they interviewed each other. Some of that might happen next week with the Deans. After that it won't happen at all since there will only be one guest at a time.

Third, at various points I wanted to be one of the panelists to expand on their responses. So two quick things on that. There is an enormous amount of fear about using technology in projects, most of which reflects not understanding what is possible and what good use looks like. So much of the communication is about making people feel comfortable and educating them about risks as well as about possibilities. There is also an issue that users/clients don't understand the human effort involved and sometimes their expectations get out of whack for that reason. So, in part, some of the communication is for making expectations more realistic. Personally, I find that part hard - sort of the same problem as telling truth to power.

In spite of the lack of recording, I do expect the team that has done the interview to do a write up of the session, so we have some record of it. Timing-wise, there is no deadline for these things, but I will hold onto my evaluation of the session till that has been completed, some incentive for getting it done. And in the future, I hope the audience is anal enough to ask me whether the recording has started. Shared responsibility is best. :-)

One last point, I don't have a sense from where I was sitting how this worked for the students in the audience. If you'd like to comment about that, it would be useful. I'm not sure how much of this process we can tweak, but maybe there could be a small change if some problem were identified that is fixable.

School as Prison

Not sure I agree with all the language usage in this piece, but the sentiments seem pretty much in line with my own thinking on these issues.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Class Recordings Folder

There is now a folder in Compass for class recordings. You can follow the link there to the audio for today's class. You need to turn your speakers down to hear this. It is audible, but far from perfect. We'll continue to tweak this process as we make more recordings.

Also, this did require me to do some post processing, because the file size was too large to put into some of my more obvious places, so I converted it to an flv movie and put it on my site. I hope at some point it converts it back to mp3 format so I can just distribute the audio file that way. It will not let me upload that as the source.

I do have the raw audio on my laptop so if teams want them to write up the post part of their interviews, I can give it to you, if you have a thumb drive or some other way to port the file.

Survey on Drucker - Chapters 1 - 3.

The survey is now available. Please complete after class today.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Prep School in the Inner City

The New York Times Magazine focuses on schools in this issue. Given our earlier discussion in class on this topic, I thought you'd like this piece. Also, for those in 396, the piece is an exemplar of the multiple threading approach I'd like you to take in your book review.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stages of Student Development

Those of you still struggling with the blogging might take some solace from your professor having writer's block in his day job. I committed to writing a column for the periodical called Educause Quarterly and the next one is supposed to be about how to pare back IT services in light of budget cuts. Today was to be my day devoted to producing this 1500 word masterpiece. But instead I've procrastinated all day and have produced nothing I'm proud of on this score. Mostly, I've puttered around with other diversions.

One thing I found was a column from the Chronicle of Higher Education called Freshman Comp Tantrums. (You likely need to be on campus for this link to work.) It doesn't describe our class, but there are some parallels. Perhaps more interesting that the column itself is the suggestion by the first commenter that the issues being described have been documented by William Perry, about 40 years ago, in his Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years. I wonder if any of you have come across that work in your studies. I was so intrigued by this that I got the book from the Library and started reading it. In this recent reflection one member of the class talks about the psychological notion called schema. Perry uses that term and suggests that students as they develop go from one schema to the next, in a predictable pattern of development.

I hadn't heard of Perry before, but I heard a similar though not identical argument made by Marcia Baxter Magolda, who was here a couple of years ago to keynote the Campus' Active Learning Retreat. This short paper by one of her former students explains the developmental stages in her model.

If you act this developmental approach to college student learning and then you posit that different students will reach the developmental milestones at different times (both Perry and Baxter Magolda agree on this) then students will react differently to how a course is taught by how the course appears to them vis-a-vis their own development.

To this I'll add one more wrinkle about how things compare today versus how they were when Perry did his work. Today students are exposed to a huge amount of information that they wouldn't have been able to access in Perry's time and I believe more of the day (at least at the high school level) has been programmed with activities of some sort. (Not knowing your full schedules you seem much more involved with programmed activities than I was when I was in college.) In that sense life was more leisurely when Perry was writing and while students had less exposure to new ideas, I believe they had more exposure to reasoned argument. It is witnessing the latter that helps students move through these developmental stages to be able to accommodate in their schema that neither view in the argument seems totally right nor totally wrong.

I'm not sure how being aware of Perry and Baxter Magolda will impact the course from here on out. But maybe getting this out of my system will help me focus on the EQ piece I must write.

Movie Night

It is now confirmed that we will do the movie night on October 29 from 5 - 8 PM. This is in room 3003 BIF, somewhere on the third floor (I believe still on the West side of the building). We'll have the food first but start the movie soon thereafter. Closer to the event, we'll figure out the menu. Also, I hope one or two of you can help me with cleanup afterwards.

Survey Results for Argyris - Double Loop Learning

The results are now posted in Compass. The respondents liked this session.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I never could ice skate. They'd flood the asphalt tennis courts and let it freeze, turning them into a skating rink. My dad would take us kids on a Saturday. We'd have the skates and hot chocolate in a thermos. My older sister was ok at it. We had home movies to prove the point. So when I got old enough, I had to give it a try. It wasn't the falling. Though I was poor at it, I could roller skate after a fashion. And later I learned to skateboard. It was the ankles. The roller skates and the skateboard had four wheels. The ice skates had blades. My ankles caved. So I walked with the outer part of my boot touching the ground along with the blade also touching the ground at an angle. I had some balance this way. But it wasn't skating. And it wasn't fun.

Growing up, the incapacities came first, before I found something I was good at. Fine motor skill was a problem. What other kids found ordinary, I found a challenge. I needed coaching to overcome this. I got a lot of that at pre-school and some in summer camp. It helped. I improved. But you can't get coaching in everything and there are some things you're just supposed to be able to do. What's the big deal? Put on the skates and skate.

If truth be told, I also had some incapacities at school, even after it became clear I was an elite student. I didn't know how to look into a microscope - take the glasses off or leave them on, what was I supposed to be seeing versus what I actually saw, was it the stuff on the slide or a reflection of my eye? And I had no clue about poetry. That was totally opaque to me.

I can write about this because it was a long time ago. It is much harder to write about those incapacities that are relevant to the present. I'm afraid much of that remains concealed rather than being brought out into the open.

* * * * *

In the 1970s when the Miller Brewing Company came out with Lite Beer, a product pitched at women for when they were out with men who were drinking beer, they came up with an ad campaign that caught the national attention. The ads included a lot of high testosterone types, many former professional athletes, engaged in a mock argument - tastes great versus less filling.

A couple of the ads featured Steve Mizerak, who was the next generation great pool player, following in the shoe steps of Willie Mosconi. This tribute video has the ads, one at the beginning, which will give you a flavor of the type of commercials they were making (I wonder if you know anyone of the people featured in it) and another one, "just showing off" at the very end. I believe that last one took over 100 takes to get it right.

Very good pool players are like peacocks. They strut their stuff. If you're good and you know it, why not? Others will be impressed. After a while that may become habit. You do it because it feels like the thing to do. Maybe you do it because the expected affirmation is like the sugar that makes the medicine go down, so you are comforted and need not confront your own incapacities.

But what if the audience you are performing in front of is also the group where your incapacities come to bear? Then they may not be impressed at all. The habitual strut becomes the cause of the problem. You may sense this possibility in advance so dread the situation even more than you would otherwise. And you don't see a way out of the dilemma.

So you bluff your way through it, taking control of the situation because you have the authority to do that. There is a conceptual error that underlies it all. Your authority derives from your expertise. The error is to assume that expertise in some domain implies expertise in all. Internally you know that is false, but because of the authority and the incapacities you wish to shield, you act externally as if it is the truth.

This, I believe, is the source of Argyris' Model 1. When we get to Senge, he will talk about something similar, treating the symptom rather than the cause. It seems like human nature to do this. It takes an enlightened view to do otherwise.

* * * * *

Though this course is of my own design, I'm beginning to question my capacity to teach it. I will illustrate with two issues. The Ross article from Scientific American seemed to grab most of you. So we now have the notion of deliberate practice, which seems to convey that learning is a struggle. My own view is that is correct, but it is not the full picture. There is a different view, that learning is play. (If you had Legos as a kid, that's a good example to illustrate.) My view is that most of the time learning has to be play, but then we hit plateaus and to get on the next growth path there must be struggle, until the next growth path is found. I'm not sure what the right balance is for the class, but I sense I'm making it too much of struggle and getting some of you neurotic (or more neurotic than you already are) in the process.

The other issue came out in the discussion yesterday. It was interesting for me to hear that at least some of you prefer a blunt, direct approach to communication. Perhaps that is only confined to situations with conflict, but maybe the scope of the preference is broader than that. I, in contrast, have a preference for subtlety, most of the time, and then asking for clarification when necessary. It is my way of dealing with the complexities of life. In writing and in film making and I suspect in may other creative arts, leaving important points to the reader's (or viewer's or listener's) imagination is part of the craft. So as an aspiration, subtlety seems the appropriate goal. But making some sense of a situation would appear better than making none at all. So a straightforward approach, especially at first, does have its advantages. Most of the time, however, I'm not conscious of when I'm doing one or the other.

Attempts at introducing subtlety, especially when the class isn't ready for it, looks like showing off. With that we have the ingredients for the class to turn into Model 1.

Someone suggested a while back that we try breaking into smaller groups. That might be an interesting alternative to what we have now. When we're done with the student led discussions, I think we should give that a try.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lesson Plan for Bruner on Intuition and Motivation

Here tis. I am curious about the following. In your other classes do instructors give out their PowerPoints or other presentation material ahead of class? If so, does that help you to prepare for class?

Getting students ready for class is a big deal issue in my day job. So I'm looking to borrow/steal any ideas you have on the subject.

Survey Results & Next Survey

The results from the session on Bruner - Intuition and Motivation, are now posted in Illinois Compass. The survey on Argyris - Double Loop Learning is now available.

Changing the Schedule a little

I'm moving the session on Drucker Chapter 4 from October 5 to October 12 and using the October 5 session to get us ready for the visit by the two Deans on October 7. So there are now different readings for October 5, the piece by George Kuh and another piece by Arthur Levine. Because the visits of the guests had to be arranged to meet their schedules, they are not perfectly synced with how we are proceeding through the readings.

I need to get posted how we will proceed after that. On October 5, let's take a few minutes at the start to discuss whether the class can do two threads interspersing sessions on management with other sessions that prepare us for our class project, or whether we should defer some of the management discussions till the bulk of the class visits are over. (Libbie Morley is the 4th visit on October 21, then we have a break for a few weeks until Mary-Ann Winklemes comes.)

Also, next Monday we will start with the office hours on your reflections. I'm going to try for 3 students each slot. We'll do that by alphabetical order of your first names. For this Monday, if your first name starts with A, B, or C, please stay after the break so we can chat about your reflections.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sheepish Grin

Team Ewe's lesson plan for the session tomorrow is available. They encourage you to read it before class.


In today's New York Times Op-ed, David Brooks' column was a eulogy to Irving Kristol. You might find it interesting to consider vis-a-vis our class regarding those characteristics in Kristol that Brooks champions. I was especially pleased to read that Kristol, the first of the neocons, was skeptical even of his comrades in arms. That takes some intellectual independence. If you are interested in Kristol himself and what he thinks neocon means, this essay in the Weekly Standard from a few years ago is quite readable and revealing. I'm sure you can find more of his writing on the Internet. He was quite prolific.

For the record I'm neither neo, though I liked the Matrix, nor con, though I disliked Paul Krugman's book, The Conscience of a Liberal. I am more in Krugman's corner on his recent columns that analyze the Health Care proposals in Congress.

Switching gears, I liked today's quote of the day, which is:

It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.
- Aeschylus

Inspired by that, here is some silliness on intuition. Take a look. You are supposed to determine whether there is one large inward spiraling circle or if instead there are a bunch of concentric circles. The fun thing here (though be careful, it made me dizzy) is that you do have an intuition about this. And the intuition is wrong.

Perhaps one of you science whizzes can explain why optical illusions exist. I understand neither the biology nor the physics with optical illusions. Its enough for me to know, they create intrigue.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Poor Time Management by Me

I thought we'd have more time this afternoon to do other things, but we didn't. So I want to note here that on Wednesday I need to talk briefly with the teams who are:
(1) doing Drucker Chapts 1 - 3
(2) doing Drucker Chapter 4, and
(3) Interviewing the College CIOs.

I will email the teams before Wednesday, but I want to make sure you are ready, because there will be less time to have these conversations than I originally planned.


I also didn't have time to follow up on the Ross article in Scientific American. I trust that many of you will become parents during the course of your life, but I hope that doesn't happen for the next few years and that before it does happen you come to realize that the Ross piece is not a template for good parenting.

There are tons of horror stories about the kids of pushy parents going astray emotionally in their teen years. Just about every kid TV star has had significant problems in adolescence (Ron Howard is the exception that proves the rule), because they never had a "normal" life. The woman's tennis star, Jennifer Capriati, is another notable example. You might also consider the case of William Sidis, a genius in the minds of many during the first half of the 2oth century, who had a very tough life and got estranged from his parents because of his father's odd approach to his upbringing. This essay by Abraham Sperling indicates that Sidis did not "burn out" intellectually, though he opted to perform mundane work to make a living and zealously maintained his privacy as an adult.

The lesson is that there can be pitfalls in pushing your genius children too hard and creating a teenage expert in an adult field is bound to have some tough consequences for the kid. On the other hand, for the rest of the population, a gentle nudge in favor of effortful study might be a very good thing.


There is a story about Mary-Ann Winkelmes, the last of our guests this semester, in the current edition of Inside Illinois. The story will give you a bit of background about her.

Following up on what Dean Hedeman suggested in class today, if you want "the skinny" for why these guests have been invited you probaby need to interview me on that. The information might not otherwise be readily available to you.

At the CHP event last week I spent a good chunk of time talking with Professor Michael Loui of ECE who is doing peer mentoring in a class he teaches. The mentoring sessions, which are voluntary, happen Sunday mornings, so there is ample space for them to occur without conflicting with regular classes. I thought many students leave CU for the weekends but he reported not so in ECE. I'd like your take on that.

While most of the reason for the guests is to help inform the class project, the visit by the College CIOs might help us to think about Drucker. In particular, we might ask about responsibility to College and responsibility to Campus, when those complement each other and when they compete, where does loyalty lie, and what impact is that on management decisions. These are all Drucker like issues. We also want to talk about information networks and how the information that I called "the skinny" above, gets learned. Also how does real info get sorted from rumor. Those topics need to be "drilled down" on quite a bit, to make the conversation interesting. I did want to point out here that Our Drucker discussion on Monday should help with the visit on Wednesday.

Either I should be charging you guys $100/hour because you are using our class discussion as a therapy session about school or we need to figure out how to get the discussion to other examples. Today nobody talked about intuition and motivation when participating in an RSO or in some less formal outside of class activity, or learning while doing an internship, or pleasure reading or anything else. Given the conclusion that to expose structure we need to look at multiple contexts, I'm not getting why we aren't generating those. I could use some help getting us unstuck.

Sticking with the theme of getting unstuck, it is my belief that if you have the compulsion to persist on working through a problem that you current can't solve, the things you try are based on intuition. The process is definitely not trial and error, at least not most of the time. There is an intelligence in selecting the thing to try next. This is definitely true for math problems. I believe it carries over to many other types of problem solving.

I will close with a bit of fun. This was sent to me by somebody I work with who is a native Spanish speaker. The goal is to get the brown frogs on the left and the green frogs on the right. When you do get it, is it because you "see the trick?" That's intuition.

Survey on Bruner - Intuition and Motivation

The survey for the student led session is now available. As before, please evaluate that only, not the second hour.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A reflection on reflections on reflection

It appears that the class is bifurcated about the reflections. Some are enjoying the blogging and seeing the activity as a means for producing deeper learning. Others are struggling and not yet finding the writing illuminating. To those in the first group, keep at it. In my post, Slowing Down, which was focused on the class discussion but pertains to the writing too, I sketched some of the intellectual activities that are necessary for gaining a deep understanding of a subject. You should be aiming to do some of that with the writing.

For those in the second group, below I will offer a few suggestions about things that might help.

(1) This is a longer term suggestion. It may have no immediate benefit for you this semester. To the extent that improving your writing is a lifelong pursuit, it will help. To get a window into the idea, here is a short blog post by Will Richardson, who is writing affectionately about Donald Murray, a journalist and one of the great writing teachers. You might read Murray's book that Richardson references, Expecting the Unexpected. It will give you more of an idea about what the writing should do for the reader and what you should do to produce such writing. Though I came to my approach with teaching on writing independent of direct knowledge of Murray, I came to realize that I'm trying to emulate much of what he advocates.

(2) Some of you are struggling with the writing that focuses on "I" or "me" and the personal nature of that, in some cases because that cuts against your culture and your upbringing. You can instead use the experience of in-class discussions we've had, in which case it will be about "we" or "us" and perhaps that is less difficult to do. You can talk about other experiences you've been involved with and still use the first person plural form. Or you can be objective about ideas and write about them at arms length, but keeping in the mind that there is a need to produce connections between ideas and one good way to do this is on identifying multiple contexts to illustrate the same point.

(3) There is a romantic notion, almost certainly false, that the good writer can just sit down at the keyboard and crank it out. Then when it doesn't happen for you and you have writer's block and it's getting late on Friday and there is still nothing to show, it becomes painful. All of this is a reminder that you are not a good writer, as if that is stigma you'll endure forever. This outcome, I believe, is mostly a consequence of process errors you are making. The first of those is that the ideas you need to write about come from some grand gestalt you do in your head. That is the first cause or so you implicitly assume. Mostly, that is wrong. The first cause is the reading (you can't be a good writer without being a serious reader) or conversations in which you are engaged or movies or other external stimuli. There is no shortage of that. Then you need time to process that stimuli. That processing is called pre-writing. I do that in my head, but some of you may want to take some notes while you are doing it. Then you should be ready to write and it shouldn't be so painful.

I'm going to segue from those suggestions to Jake's post and about writing of the readings ahead of time. I'm still scratching my head on that one as to why you thought you shouldn't be doing that all along, but perhaps there is the question, which readings, the ones we've discussed already or the ones that are upcoming? To that my answer is, "yes." But rather than being cutesy here (when I was in high school, I gave that sort of response all the time to my mom) I've done something concrete to help you look forward. There is now a link in the left sidebar to the Google Calendar for the course so you can more readily look forward. This coming week, we will be finishing Bruner and working through Argyris on Double Loop Learning. Because the team led discussions are already scheduled, we'll start on Drucker the following week. Thereafter, we aren't yet scheduled (we'll do some of Drucker on the individual, but how much needs to be determined) and I then want the slowing down ideas to take effect.

I intended that Scientific American piece, which many of you liked, as a commentary about what you need to be doing in the reflections - effortful study. Some of you took that piece as truth on all accounts and interpreted it as saying that talent and native intelligence matters not at all. That is an extremely strong proposition. None of you asked how much and what type of evidence would be needed to be confident that the proposition is valid. The article offered mostly anecdotal evidence. Further, one wonders whether that is even an interesting question. If we can agree that effortful practice matters a lot for the development of expertise, which I'd is a potent conclusion in itself, what further value is there from asserting the strong proposition as some of you did?

One last point on that. Because time is scarce, becoming an expert is necessarily a narrowing venture. As generalists, in contrast, we remain amateurs. Sometimes the approach of experts blocks exploration because the experts have such high standards of what needs to be produced. Amateurs can feel comfortable in their explorations by safely ignoring a sense of good taste about a subject, invoking when necessary the rejoinder, "I'm no expert on this." Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind tells us readers to celebrate our amateurness. That's what you should try for with the blogging.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Survey Results on Bruner Part 1

The survey results for Bruner on Discovery and Readiness are now available in Illinois Compass. For team Dew who led that session, let's give them another round of thanks for getting us started with student led sessions.

On my written evaluation of these sessions - I had to swap out the discussion threads in Illinois Compass for a different format of thread so you could see my comments. Team Dew should now be able to see my evaluation of that session. That part should be smoother from here on out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Slowing Down

I am grateful that we've gotten through this week, with the the readings from the National Academy volume and Bruner's book, for we now have the right language to talk about our own learning issues and how the class functions. So I believe we recognize that for deep learning students need to understand the underlying structure of the situation. The discussion on that point went well yesterday.

I thought the discussion about rote learning and drill was less sharp, which is why I introduced some examples other than arithmetic (more on this in a bit). There was some agreement that too much drill can end up masking a search to find the underlying structure. I'm sure we all agree. I also believe we mentioned, but I'm less sure we all agreed, that some drill is useful. (And if not drill what instead?) The issue is that the learner needs to become familiar with the situation before the structure can be identified. In what other ways can the learner become familiar with the situation?

Some of the early student reflections from this week suggested the becoming familiar issue was a concern with the readings for the course and that as a result of the lack of familiarity students are not seeing the connections between the readings and the discussion in class. They are wondering whether they shouldn't use their reflections to blog about the readings in advance of the class discussion. From where I sit, that's a fine thing to do.

But I wonder what would be done instead if we didn't have the weekly reflections requirement for the course. Students would still need to get familiar with the readings. How would they do that? And what checks would they put in place for themselves to establish they are sufficiently familiar? What I'm really asking about here is habits of mind. Is there a routine you go through to get familiar with what you are reading, going through a mental checklist, if you will, of steps to take to establish the requisite comfort with the subject matter?

In class we have something of a routine at this point. I pose a question to elicit your responses about some experience. Students give their responses and we see if there is concurrence or disagreement with those. When there is concurrence, I try to distill some lesson, a part of the structure we're trying to identify. That is a conjecture based on the discussion. The distillation has to be consistent with the experience you describe.

But in our routine we are not yet testing that conjecture in some other circumstance that we haven't yet discussed. And we are not yet asking whether the conjecture is consistent with the readings. We probably should do both. I believe doing so would give students in the class a feeling of standing on firmer ground with the ideas under discussion. But to achieve this, we''ll have to cover less. There doesn't seem any other alternative to me.

I should also note that in the first part, where I elicit your responses, I have some guess as to what you'll say, but I do not know for sure. So it is a challenge to allow the flexibility that you want in giving your responses and being able to tie those immediately into the readings. I need some time to reflect on that myself to establish the connections. So perhaps we also need to better tie one class session into the next, where part of one is an early exploration and part of the next is making ties to that. I wonder if that structure might not be better than what we have now, where we pretty much wrap things ups by the end of class, with some important connections not being made.

Returning to the issue of habits of mind, I believe that most if not all of you need to form new habits of the following sort. If we think we've identified structure then that structure should apply in multiple contexts and one way to validate that our conjecture about structure is correct is to generate additional contexts that seem parallel and see if the conjecture applies well in those new circumstances. So part of the process is generating other contexts and going through this text. I believe you need to develop a habit where it becomes instinctual for you to do that. If you did that while you were reading, then there might not be a need to blog about it to get the familiarity that is needed. Until the habit takes hold, however, blogging about it might be a good way to establish the habit, with only occasional refreshes necessary thereafter.

Blogging about the reading without going through the exercise of generating contexts and testing structure with them, may be less beneficial for this purpose. My fear is that you will treat the reading as a thing unto itself (which is how my former students used to treat their intermediate microeconomics textbook) instead of as an aid for considering real world phenomena.

Yesterday in class the discussion couldn't get past the arithmetic example. It is a good and powerful context for making the points about structure and rote learning. But it is only one context.

As a teacher I want you to maintain your individuality and learn to fully express yourself, accounting for your personal strengths and interests. But in some small ways I want you to imitate me. Developing a habit to generate multiple contexts as you consider the structure of a situation is one of those. If you end up doing that I will be flattered and, intellectually, the course will have accomplished a great deal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Doodle Poll for Movie Night

You can go here to select your preferred times. Please do this asap as I will have to reserve a classroom for this purpose and I need to do that well in advance. Also, please vote for all times you can make it. If there is no time that works for all of us, I will have to play Solomon. Half a baby doesn't quite do the trick.

When we do find a night, I'll be passing the buck to you on determining the food choice.

Survey for Student-Led Session

The survey for the session on Bruner about Structure and Readiness is now available. In completing this survey, please restrict your attention to the first hour and not include our brief discussion on extrinsic motivation.

Follow up to class today - another wacky explanation for why grade school kids aren't curious

You'll recall today that I offered up two different explanations for why students seem to lack intrinsic motivation to learn, even early on. The first was that my generation - baby boomers - were ethically confused by the events in their formative years and as a result ended up spoiling their children. The second is that the quality of teachers has gone down dramatically since I was in grade school, because talented women nowadays have many other good job opportunities aside from teaching. Then, teaching grade school was a good gig.

I want to offer up a third, distinct, wacky explanation. This is related to Proposition 13 in California, which started the movement called Tax Revolt that ushered in the Reagan Revolution and that ultimately led to making the Federal Income Tax structure much less progressive than it had been, with much lower marginal rates for high income earners. The consequences are many but to make things simple, let me focus on two core consequences, one beneficial, the other pernicious. Lowering marginal tax rates at the high end encouraged economic growth. It also, however, increased income inequality. These dual effects, in turn, raised both the cost of a college education and the return to it.

Education has always been both a thing in itself and also a passport to the good life. The wacky argument is that the Reagan revolution changed the balance between the two, with a much heavier emphasis on the passport part. Then, what happened is a kind of unfolding. If College education means that much more as a passport, good grades in high school and going to a good high school matter that much more, and on and on, all the way down to pre-school. So parents of toddlers are out there trying to rig the game in favor of their little angels, in an earnest but misguided effort to secure their future, while instead they should be promoting the kids' interests in the here and now, irrespective of the long term consequences.

Truthfully, I don't think these explanations are so wacky, though they are highly stylized. If each is part of the story then the cumulative effect can reasonably be pretty large, though you really have no way to see what typical kid curiosity was like when your parents were school-aged children. Nor is there a way for you to see how alienated as a group they may have been as teenagers and in that way make some comparisons with your own generation.

The list of explanations can be made longer (more TV and computer games and less reading, more time alone without parents or friends, more interactive time that is pre-programmed rather than spontaneous) and I bet you can come up with some others. Rather than do any more of that, I want to briefly talk about the consequences.

And in doing that, I want to make clear that I'm offering up my opinion, not a consensus view of right minded folks everywhere. Other reasonable people might strongly disagree with this perspective. With that disclaimer, my view is that education is in crisis but that we haven't come to realize it yet. We're in much the same state now as mortgage lending was in 2006. All the problems were there then and evident too, but the systems wasn't yet bursting at the seems. I believe the same thing is happening in education from K - 20. Pathology seems more the rule than the exception. I've written about this in the first chapter of my book. Perhaps it is better to have those of you who are interested about this pathology to read there rather than to discuss in class at a later date, returning to the theme only when we get to Declining By Degrees, which is when I planned to discuss it with you. (I will post the Doodle poll soon so we can find our movie night time.)

Also, here is the Jonathan Kozol page at Reading him makes you ashamed of what is happening across the nation at inner city schools.

Scientific American Article via Campus Library

The Expert Mind is available on the Library site. One of the students in the class found this first, in the database called EBSCO. Since the Library has the license to redistribute that content to members of the campus community but I don't, you really should get it there.

Also, and though it is really outside the scope of the course, the response to the Dewey Decimal System question mortified me. So a quickie on finding the reference on the Library site.

The Library Catalog allows search according to different criteria. In this case, I clicked on the tab called Journals. Then I did a Journal Title search on Scientific American. The first link in the reponse has several electronic journals. The second of these has a link to EBSCO, full text, with four links, the first of which says 1993 - present. That's the one I click.

Then once in EBSCO, I do a search on the article title and I find the page I referred you to.

If you happen to go to grad school, you likely will need this sort of skill. In my humble opinion, some rote on this stuff would have greate value for you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A feed for comments on student posts

I made a single feed for the comments on all the student blogs, so you can track new comments that way.

A little metacognition

Metacognition - thinking about thinking - is occasionally useful as a way of see where we are and where we might go. In yesterday's class, you surprised me. I thought I'd hear more of you say what you learn in your majors transfers to other areas. But I believe, instead, most of you felt the opposite. What you learn is highly situated. You excel in a small universe, which comes into sharp focus. Other things remain a blur.

There is a different notion of transfer that we didn't talk about yesterday - longitudinal transfer - I call it riding a bicycle. Once learned, it stays learned. Other learning is use it or lose it. Here is an example.

When I was a high school senior I took a course on Saturday mornings at NYU in Relativity and Geometry, a course meant for high school students in the NYC area. The prof was a fun lecturer and did a variety of sidebars. One of the those was a critique of the standardized tests and the question type: here is a series of numbers, what comes next? He taught us the Method of Sucessive Differences and claimed if you used it on those tests you'd always get the right answer. He also gave us this particular example, which I'm sure you won't get (because you didn't grow up in NYC) but at the time I didn't get it either and I did grow up there. The series is

4, 14, 23, 34, 42, 50

What comes next?

The answer is Lexington Avenue. Those are stops on the F-Train. Back to longitudinal transfer. This discussion and the particular example I recall 38 years later, no problem. The special relativity however....

So there is a puzzle of what is learned once and doesn't require relearning and what isn't. The chapter on transfer talks about how things are learned the first time as being important for this. I agree, but I also think it matters what it is that is being learned. The expression, "fundamentals" cuts across many areas of study, includes sports, and probably includes the arts as well. So a big question is whether we learn fundamentals in a riding a bicycle way. Those who do can go far in that particular field, at least that's my belief.

I want to switch gears a little and touch on the ethical implications of the expertise-in-narrow-scope conclusion we seem to have drawn. In today's NY Times, David Brooks has an Op-Ed column, that touched me. The piece is about a radio broadcast he had listened to quite recently that was a replay of a broadcast when World War II came to a close. The tone in the broadcast was humble and subdued. The World Ware II survivors had endured together. There should be thanks for that. But not a sense of triumph. Brooks is both nostalgic and pining for that tone to reappear in the social pysche now. What he observes however, at least in the world of professional sports and popular entertainment, is a far different tone, egotistical and with much bravado. He mentions, in particular, Michael Jordan's recent acceptance speech as he became a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. I watched that live. And John Stockton's too, which preceded it. Stockton's speech was more of what Brooks has in mind. But Stockton, a player's player, never appeared in a Nike ad.

Trying to bring those thoughts back to you guys, where many of you are studying science or engineering, what do you think of the tone in the climate where you work? Does the environment encourage humility or bombasity or something in between? And when you have broader interactions, what then, a common bond or a bunch of individuals who are just getting by?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Follow up to class session - things to read

You guys should definitely read this piece, The Expert Mind, as it is accessible and supports what I said in class. (Actually, I was echoing what is in that piece.) The part I like the most in this piece is the discussion of "effortful study" which begins on the fourth page. Its a very interesting notion. If I can tie it to what Gawande argued, both require persistence. For Gawande, persistence is about generating outcomes. For Ericsson, persistence is what is required to endure the regime to become expert.

The question, then, is whether persistence is an act of pure will, or whether it come form personal disposition. Sorry, I don't have a full answer for that. But I believe it is mostly the latter. To illustrate, let me switch from the word persistence to a different word, compulsion. Both imply stick-to-it-ness. Compulsion implies even more, an inability to stop. What happens when what Ericsson call effortful study becomes compulsion?

And with that question let me move from what is pretty solid social science to a different arena, one that some believe is truth but others think is closer to voodoo - personality typing. I'm particularly thinking of the typing scheme called Myers-Briggs. I've been tested in that schema several times and almost always am measured as an INTP. If you follow that link, see if you can see an element of compulsion in the definition of the type. Also see whether it seems like it is descriptive of me. Incidentally, when I've measured differently it is on the first characteristic, which can either be I (introvert) or E (extrovert). My job demands the latter so sometimes I embrace those characteristics, but I do believe it goes against my type. I'll let you do your own google search on this stuff if you are interested. All I'll supply here is the acronym MBTI for Myer-Briggs Type Indicator. There are sixteen possibilities, based on four basic binary characteristics.

If you believe the story, INTPs persist in an effort to understand truth as their raison d'etre, but once they've achieved that they drop the idea like a hot potato and move on to the the next thing. This makes us great planners but really lousy implementers and it may be a reason that I really admire those who persist well into implementation, because I can't do it well, my calling is elsewhere.

Let me change gears one more time and talk about the difference between expertise and genius, Howard Gardner calls them Extraordianry Minds. This book is probably a bit too much right now, but if you are looking for a diversion, you might enjoy it. He spends some time up front distinguishing between precocity (a la the Suzuki method for learning a musical instrument) which is in some way predicatible, otherwise how could the method be effective, and genius, which is not predictable at all. He also discusses the Terman Study, and that early measured high IQ has limited predictive power. The people who he does focus on, the extraordinary minds, are all familiar to you. The nature of their genius, however, might be novel.

Genius is certainly an absorbing subject, but it does take us far afield from effective change, where we hope that is possible even for us lesser mortals.

Rubric for Team Guided Discussions

Here are some component criteria for the evaluation and then one overall. Do note that Professor Arvan plans to be a listener during these discussions and will try to chime in only if asked or to announce time for a break. Also note that the entire class shares responsibility for these sessions. The team leading the discussion can't and shouldn't try to do it all on their own.

1. Readings. Each of these discussions are related to some readings the class is covering. Does the discussion tie to readings in an obvious way? (25%)

2. Flow. We want good flow and good class participation. Did we achive that? Did the class feel that way (as reflected by the survey responses). (25%)

3. Leading/empowerment. This is a question of balance and is something we struggled with early. How much should the lead group frame? How much should it be the rest of the class that is chiming in? When should the discussion linger because that is profitable? When should it move on to the next point? (25%)

4. Overall. Students have been writing paragraph responses in the survey to indicate this about previous sessions. It would be useful to do likewise here. (25%)

The bare bones about the book review

For the 396 students here is a list of what you will be doing for the next four weeks on the first writing project.

1. You will produce an essay of at least 5 pages (if written in MS Word, for example).

2. The essay will be produced via a process of drafts and revisions. Your final submission after the four weeks will be a second draft, a third draft, or even a fourth draft. It will not be a first draft.

3. I will give you feedback between revision on which you will base your next version.

4. Before you start in on the drafts, you will produce a one pager (called a precis) which explains your plan for the the essay.

5. Your essay will be in some significant part about one of the books we are reading this semester. You should not aim to summarize the entire book, but you might want to do something of that sort for a particular chapter and then zero in on that.

6. Your essay also should tie into two other themes. One is the theme for the course, desigining for effectice change. Your review should say how the book under consideration ties in. You might establish that tie by creating a connection between the book and other things we have or will read. The other theme is personal experiences you have had that illustrated ideas from the book directly or indirectly via the structure of the argument in the book.

7. Style-wise, I've encouraged you to read other book reviews so you can get a sense of what a good review looks like. The reason I've opted for this form of essay is so you have models you can emulate.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thoughts on third set of reflections

As with the previous week there was good diversity among the posts, though also some common themes. Many of your wrote about the shy student and how to get such a student to open up. Joe had the most common sense approoach - choose topics appropriately, non-controversial ones initially creating some comfort for the individual, a base to build on. The other big theme was (lack of) communication in the classroom. To exemplify the problem, Niranjan started his post with the infamous scene from Ferris Bueller, where the students are bored to tears and the Ben Stein character, not knowing how to engage the students, ends up talking to himself.

I'm not 100% sure why Niranjan chose that way to start his post, but it certainly did occur to me that I had mentioned some movies in my follow up post about Wednesday's class, so it could very well be that he was echoing me in using the movies to make his points. If that's right, note the form of communication, entirely implicit. The message is that he read my post and digested its meaning. We'll get back to that in a bit.

Jake's post was a little different, talking explicity about negotiating in a conflict situation where people have strongly held (and different) points of view. Joe's common sense solution works well for dealing with shyness, but it really doesn't help in the case that Jake outlined. The topic is already there, determined by the circumstance. Some niceties ahead of the the serious discussion, sure, that might be helpful. But in the presence of real conflict niceties alone will not suffice. What will? Before addressing that, let's keep in mind that there are no silver bullets. Remember, it's better, not best.

Jakes essay took a kind of arm's length view to the issues. Perhaps that is necessary when first talking about conflict, or we're apt to not make any progress at all. But I think it misses some crucial elements. Conflict situations are apt to be extremely emotional. Somehow, it is important to account for that. A couple of days ago, there was a quote of the day that I thought appropriate.

A timid person is frightened before a danger, a coward during the time, and a courageous person afterward.
Jean Paul Richter (1763 - 1825)

In some real life situations I've been in (work related, not for our class) I've found myself frightened at all three points of time, for somewhat different reasons. Ahead of time there is a certain dread that the confrontation will take place. During there is the fear that you can't keep your wits about yourself to pull it off. And after, there is the concern that your efforts may have been not received well or that something else will derail your attempts. It's with this emotional burden that you try to make the other person open up. You do it with a few principles in mind. You need to show you are listening. The echoing that Niranjan did provides a model. You need to view the discussion as a negotiation, so there must be some flex in your position. But you also need to have some firm goals that aren't negotiable. If you cave on everything, there is no real reason for the conversation.

It may be hard to envision this, so I want to consider a hypothetical that I hope will make this seem real. Imagine (this is not the hard part) that you have a professor a la Ben Stein who answers his own posed questions in class and the students never really contribute. Suppose you have an idea for how he might change the class process to improve matters. You therefore want to communicate that idea to the professor. So you decide to go to his office hours to discuss with him. (I'm not advocating that you do this. I'm just trying to create a scenario for you so you can work through how you'd feel about this, both intellectually and emotionally.)

What's evident in this case is that there is a possible upside if the negotiation works. There is also an obvious downside. The professor could react poorly to your suggestion and might be gruff in the conversation, especially initially, because your suggestion might very well be viewed as an attack on his teaching. (He'd be right in that.)

Heroes focus on the upside and take the risk. They actually welcome situations like this becuase those situations provide opportunities to make systemic change. Think of Mahatma Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. But living by one's principles as the primary driving force in one's life is a very hard thing to do. Only a very few do it. There are some rough consequences to bear from following this approach. The vast majority, in an attempt to shun those harsh consequences, take a different approach. We bend so as not to break. Survival is a principle too.

Once in a while, however, circumstances present themselves where either you've become so frustrated with the status quo or you've become enamored with the upside potential that you are willing to take on the hero's burden. It's good to have some sense of how to communicate in those instances, even if they are rare.

Friday, September 11, 2009

For 396 students - Rubric for Book Reviews

The rubric for the reflections makes sense to me so I'm going to keep the first two categories for that, General Writing and Tying into the Course, with the same weights. But the third category on growth doesn't make sense because the book review is a thing unto itself and I will only count in the assessment the final version you submit, not earlier versions nor the precis. So I need something else to swap for that third category.

Multiple Parallel Threads (25%)

You will have one or two core themes about the book you review and you definitely want to revisit them periodically in the writing. But then you will have other threads too. They are related to the core themes and perhaps also to each other. One may be a personal narrative. Another may be something else we've done in class that ties in with the main topic of your review. You may also use two threads to talk about the same issue but from different perspectives. Threading is essential to make it a good read and returning to a thread from time to time as it fits in with the larger story makes for compelling reading.

The chapter in Better, What Doctors Owe, which covers the malpractice issue, does the multiple threading extremely well. Finding a doctor who ends up suing other doctors, to get at the intellectual tension in sorting through a doctor's own beliefs on the matter, is pure genius on the part of Gawande, or he was very lucky to have stumbled into this particular example.

Third Survey Results Posted

Perfection is and will remain an aspiration, but from among those of you who did respond I think we've found a reasonable balance between having some direction and letting the class go ahead. Topic seems to matter a lot for whether we can get good discussion and if there is resonable prior experience to tap into to make people feel they have something to contribute. It is a challenge to find such topics that do both that and tie in directly to the subject we're supposed to be discussing. I hope we can keep up with that, but do note that it is a challenge. So if while you are reading and reflecting you think you've hit on such a topic, please advance that. Good suggestions will make things better for everyone.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Changing approach in responding to reflections and other mods

Since starting next week the 396 students will be contributing other writing (the first is the precis on the book review, followed by drafts of the book reviews themselves) and I need to give them timely feedback. I will be responding to fewer of your reflections, probably responding explicitly to 1/3 of the class per week from here on out. If you want commentary, just say so in your post. I'm happy to oblige. Also if you want to talk about your ideas face to face, I'm happy to do that too. But I need to do some time management and this is one step in that direction.

Also, I will use the class surveys we've been doing for when students lead the discussion, so they can get your feedback, but I think we're plateauing on their usefulness for when I lead the discussion and the participation is a little down so far for the last one. I want to avoid make work for you.

National Academy Volume - Experts versus Novices - Transfer

Expert versus Novice

What makes an expert? See if the class can flesh out a definition. Pose the question: expert in what? Does the "what" part matter? Most of the students in the class are in their 15th or 16th year of school. Are the students experts at being students? Is that meaningful or nonsense?

We have various metaphors for thinking. One of those is the brain as a powerful computer. With that as starting point, one might imagine the expert to have a more powerful CPU than the novice. That turns out to be wrong. The expert-novice distinction reflects a different kind of processing rather than different levels of processing.
We know that increasing experience and knowledge in a specific field (chess, for instance) has the effect that things (properties, etc.) which, at earlier stages, had to be abstracted, or even inferred are apt to be immediately perceived at later stages. To a rather large extent, abstraction is replaced by perception, but we do not know much about how this works, nor where the borderline lies. As an effect of this replacement, a so-called 'given' problem situation is not really given since it is seen differently by an expert than it is perceived by an inexperienced person….
What is the difference between abstraction and perception in the above paragraph?

2. the act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances.
2. immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities; insight; intuition; discernment: an artist of rare perception.
Metaphor - learning a foreign language. Initially the foreign words or sentences get tranlated (mentally) into the native language. Translation takes time. There is awkwardness with the foreign language for that reason. Later on the thinking is directly in the foreign language. There is no mental translation. One comes to understand in a different way.

Different metaphor - A plastic straw is encased in a piece of paper covering it to keep it clean till use. That covering can be folded up into little rectangles back and forth until the entire thing is folded up, giving the appearance of an accordion. The expert in learning about a situation does so like unfolding of that paper with a new perception at each stage. The knowledge doesn't come out all at once. But it is there when needed. Novices have each stage as a separate rectangle that they have to construct at the time, so they don't get nearly as far.

Still different metaphor - A novice sees the idea from one perspective only so has a very "flat" seense of the idea. The expert has many different perspectives and can switch from one to another at will.

Activity. Get students to talk about how they read for courses. How do they know whether they understand what they are reading? What do they do to create confidence in that understanding? Do they have a method? Does it matter whether the stuff is for their major or something outside like this CHP class? Can they recall back to when they were Freshmen and comment on whether their way of reading for understanding has changed?

Ask specifically about reading Gawande. Was there a methodology in making for understanding there? I made a claim when reflecting about our discussion on his Bell Curve chapter that there was really only one way to read that chapter, and I gave a model of that. Did anyone try to come up with a model of their own?

Then switch gears and talk about video games. Are there in gamers in the class? Can they talk about how they become masters at the current game they are playing. Does the novice expert distincton carry we've made carry over to that area?


Ask students about testing. Is there such a thing as a good test? What does that entail? What does it mean to know a subject well? Talk about using the knowledge in a different context. How much does the context need to vary before the student loses sight of the knowledge and that it is relevant? Talk about riding a bicycle. What knowledge is like riding a bicycle and what is use it or lose it? Talk about depth of learning in this sense. Talk about "learning to learn" skills and being able to self-teach. Note that experts constantly learn themselves, so they do a lot of transfer of knowledge.

Follow up from Wednesday's class - some movies to consider

Here's a bit of connecting the dots from the discussion in class yesterday.

The core way of framing the issue is this. We observe something (doctors who use chaperons, for example). We ask: what explains this observation? (Gawande himself explains this as both a deterrent to illicit behavior and as a signal to the patient that there is no intent of illicit behavior.) Are there unintended consequence? (Gawande says yes. The chaperon can make the patient feel uncomfortable.)

While we should take Gawande at his word, in general there can be more than one plausible reason that "explains" what we observe. Then the question is whether we have additional evidence that lets us sort between the candidate explanations (which is why I've pushed some of you on drill down, so you can get to some of that evidence). The reason you want to do this sorting is that if what you observe appears to be a problem, then addressing the problem requires addressing the true cause.

We discussed cheating on tests at some length yesterday but rather than consider it specifically let me take on malfeasance and serious crime more generally. There are two basic possible explanations for malfeasance; one places the onus on "the system" the other identifies the source as personal weakness or, more seriously, out and out evil present in the offending individual. One can then build up more complex explanations via interplay of the two basic explanations and interaction of those with other factors. Making ever more complex explanations helps in getting to the nuance of the particular circumstance, but it makes it harder to identify among the candidates.

A really great movie from the Depression era, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, is an indictment of the penal system in Georgia at the time. The story, which is based on fact, is about an innocent person getting mistakenly sent to prison, finding that horrible so he has reason to escape, and then with great irony turning into a thief because that was his only way to survive.

In contrast, movies with a prison theme based on stories by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are two excellent films in this genre, offer up morality plays where the characters are either good or evil. These characters shape how the system operates, not vice versa. The stories are all the more interesting because they feature role reversal where it is the prisoners who are cast as the virtuous ones.

Returning to our discussion, for cheating you might very well ask which of the two is the primary explanation and are there interaction effects? Our discussion yesterday observed that class size matters. To the extent that the same individual cheats in a large class but not in a small class, that suggests a system explanation. Our discussion also suggested that absent instructor commitment to deterrence (diligent proctoring) students will cheat. I don't believe we pushed this enough to ask whether all students will cheat in this case or only some. If only some, you can explain the difference in student behavior via personal weakness. In turn, you can do a similar analysis to get at why the instructor doesn't proctor.

We did also talk about unintended consequence. Most students in the class who talked about it said they preferred informality with their instructor and produced their best work in that circumstance. (There was a dissenting view on this where I believe we concluded that some formality can help in setting ground rules that facilitates good work to be done.) The need to create distance between instructor and student to enforce the deterrents in the large class setting can then have a pernicious (alienating) effect on student learning.

I also mentioned, right at the end, a different sort of system impact because the large classes are typically taken early on. At some later point in the semester I'd like to discuss, either in the full class or at break, how you see AP classes. If you had the opportunity to take those courses here in a small class setting rather than in High School, would there have been value from that?

Let me close by bringing up a movie I mentioned yesterday The Paper Chase (the full movie is here with some commercials) which casts Harvard Law School circa 35 years ago as something of a Darwinian competition among the students, with the faculty personified in the character of the Contracts Professor Charles Kingsfield, quite willing to let the students agonize in his classroom by calling on them when they weren't prepared and otherwise indifferent to the emotional stress that approach created. The author of the novel, John Osborn, was actually a student in Harvard Law School a few years earlier and wrote the book while a student, perhaps as a way to cope and to critique the experience he was going through.

Obnoxious Yankees Post #2

Last night Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig for the career hits record with the Yankees. Immediately preceding this Jeter had his longest hitless streak of the season, which raised the questions - was he pressing? We'll never know this for sure, one way or the other. But we humans tend to make inferences under such circumstances. The inference that some sports reporters made in Jeter's case is that there was so much publicity around this particular milestone - Lou Gehrig is a national icon, more for his farewell speech and the spirit it exemplified than for his accomplishments as a player - that Jeter became self-conscious and that caused him to under perform. Jeter's manager, Joe Girardi, said in a press conference that he didn't know whether Jeter was pressing or not, he had never seen him press before so didn't know what to look for, an artful dodge. The Army slogan, be all that you can be, is a useful admonition. But sometimes, it's hard to do. Jeter finally got it done. And, in case you wanted to know, the Yankees magic number is 14 - any combination of Yankee wins or Red Sox losses that adds up to 14 clinches the Division of the Yankees.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A longitudinal picture of College tuition

This is a follow up post to my earlier one about Zemsky's 3-Year College proposal. This table doesn't completely show the issue, as I'll explain below, but it gives you an idea. Note that these are inflation adjusted numbers so you can make comparisons across years. (Economists use the jargon, "in real terms" to indicate inflation adjustment.) The adjustments are never perfect but they do give you a ballpark for what is going on.

There is an economics theory called price discrimination, where the price of an item that can't be resold is individualized. If there were perfect price discrimination, the tuition rate number you'd see would be the price Warren Buffett's grandchildren (does he have any? I don't know) would pay. Everyone else who is less well off would pay an individualized price somewhat below that. So one explanation for the tuition increases that you observe in the table is to allow colleges a greater range of prices in which to price discriminate. What we'd really want to see then is the average of those individualized prices and how those vary over time. It's not in this table but the answer is that those too have gone up. In other words, financial aid has gone up, but not as fast as tuition. And of course the mix of financial aid between grant and loan has shifted - more toward loan.

In the public universities such as the U of I, I don't know if dollars from general tax revenues have increased or decreased in real terms, but what is definitely true is the share of the costs of your education that has been paid by tax revenues has gone down. (The University publishes an annual document, such as this one, that gives a breakdown of revenue sources and expenditure uses.) Tuition covers a greater share of that cost than it did in 1980 when I started to work here. Those costs, upward of 70% of which are the costs of personnel, have increased in a hyperinflationary way. So there is a similarity to the health care cost increase problem, but in education less of the explanation can be found in the analog of new technologies, treatments, and drugs, though certainly that is some of the explanation. On our campus there are many more academic professionals who support academic activity than there were 3 decades ago. (You can only see 10 years of data on the DMI site but that too is revealing. Click standard profile for the Campus to have a look.) Faculty salaries have also gone up in real terms as well.

When I started in 1980, U.S. News would classify the U of I as a "best buy," meaning the in state tuition was low compared to other Big Ten schools and comparable universities nationally. Now we are at the top end for in state tuition. Michigan has a much greater fraction of out of state students, so they get more tuition revenue that way. The U of I was upwards of 92% in state in 1980. I believe it is now in the mid 80s for in state. Overall enrollment is higher as is the number of international students at the undergraduate level.

Let me get to the punchline. The consequence of the real increase in tuition is to make College less accessible to low income people. Since college education has historically been viewed as the vehicle by which people improve their lot economically, this fact has become anathema to many. There is the related issue that even for those who do attend many borrow a lot in the process which offers one explanation for the decline of liberal education and might be thought of as a variable with the potential to create distortions in a lot of other decisions students make.

Until the recent economic downturn, this is how College was pictured in many public discussions about Higher Education. The experience was fine, but costs were spiraling out of control, limiting access. I believe the actual situation is quite complex - the experience likely has substantial issues too, but clearly the focus in public discussion has been on the costs and access question and as an industry sector, Higher Ed has done extraordinarily little to change those trends.

The Recording Failed

Something did get recorded. But it sounds like robotic voices that have blown out the speakers. Can't really pick up what anyone is saying. So I will test in a non-class setting to try to figure out what is going on, before trying again. In the meantime, this is just to let you know that there is no recording for the session earlier this afternoon.

Third Survey

We are still making mods with how the class is conducted, following a suggestion Greg made about have some direction but then free flow from you and a few cycles of that. Here is the third survey to assess how it went.

The 3-Year College Degree

I wonder whether any of you have heard about this proposal from Robert Zemsky for college reform. I'd be curious as your reaction to the suggestion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Motivation in the Schools/Dan Pink TED Talk

Ideally, I would have stumbled upon this Doug Johnson blog post about a week hence when we begin to start talking about motivation. You'll probably get a big kick out of the video within, which has the TED Talk by Dan Pink. The point is that there are parallel issues in the schools, at the college level, and in the workforce. There are also some differences (not brought out here) and we might spend some time later on those.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gawande - Naked, What Doctors Owe, and Piece Work

On the content, the goal is to make as many parallels with college education as possible. Let's start very simply with forms of address - formal (Mr., Ms., Dr.) or informal (first name basis). Let's see if we can get agreement on the usual practice and then ask whether the students have had experience with other than the usual practice. Move from that to how the the students view the practice affecting the learning - better under formal, better under informal, or doesn't matter. Then gloss over student-faculty dating, and move on to a discussion of cheating.

Get a sense of the prevalence of cheating as perceived by the students. Talk both about deterrence and about prosecution of a cheating chase after detection. Bring back formal and informal and ask whether it matters here. Try to make a connection between what is done about cheating and promotion of learning. Ask if we're cutting off our nose to spite our face. Talk about the role of trust and talk about incentives for both students and faculty.

Talk specifically about incentives for research after mentioning the botch about faculty incentives for teaching and that they are more subtle than I indicated in class the last time. Talk about non-pecuinary incentives like having good colleagues, good facilities, capable graduate students. Talk about why faculty superivise doctoral students and what they get out of it. Then ask whether teaching might be constructed so as to encourage those type of rewards.

Move into pecuniary incentives. Talk about 9-month salaries and the consequences of that. Talk about the faculty member as an entrepreneur.

Then switch modes and get the students to reflect on the style of discussion that day. The goal is for some hybrid where there is some direction from me but still substantial discussion by the students.

Mini tutorial on linking

Below is a quickie tutorial on how to using the linking tool to make hyperlinks to online references. It is a straightforward process.

Linking to Gail Collins piece on Levi Johnston to illustrate how the linking tool works.

Rubric for evaluation of reflection portfolios

Please note that I like to think of written work holistically rather than breaking it up into varying categories and analyzing the categories. I believe that the latter approach encourages mediocrity. I don't want to place bounds on your creativity that way. Nonetheless, I understand you want some sense of how you will be evaluated, so here are some categories and elaboration of what I mean for each.

Purely Writing (50%)

At root the issue is whether I enjoyed reading the piece. Of course, some of that may be me. My younger son had a few of his buddies sleep over Friday night. They stayed up till God knows when playing video games, so they hung around till late Saturday afternoon rather than going home politely in the early morning. You can't control that sort of thing. I'm mentioning it to note here that no matter how brilliantly written the piece, there can be an idiosyncratic element to the reader reaction.

With that, here are some more specific criteria that matter for reader enjoyment.

* There is a story that flows. If there are jumps in the narrative, they are demarcated in an obvious way. Otherwise sentences connect to each other.
* There is a sense of depth, of exploration, and of something gained from having made the journey. This doesn't mean you have to make some ultimate conclusion. It might be that you see two issues that conflict with one another and you don't see how to resolve the conflict. That can be the conclusion. The story doesn't need to be a neat package with a pretty bow. It does need to create a feeling of making progress in understanding the issues at hand.
* You appear in the story somehow. How did you come to the ideas in the piece? Is there some connection between these ideas and your own life? In other words, please do make it personal. Do note that personal doesn't mean intimate. Unless you feel you have a compelling reason to write about it otherwise, don't write about the connection between your subject and your boyfriend or girlfriend. Childhood experiences, however, are in bounds because they are apt to shape your thinking.
* There is a sense of craft in the telling. The order that ideas are presented matters and it appears that there has been some thought in coming up with that. (The opposite extreme of this, which you sometimes see in a student's response to an essay question on an exam, I'd call an "idiot dump," where the students does a stream of consciousness generation of every thought that might be relevant to the question at hand. Idiot dumps are painful to read.) The writing has a feeling that each sentence belongs and the word choice has been well considered. This can take years to cultivate. Here I'm noting it matters, not expecting you to be a professional writer just yet.
* There are no distractors. A claim of fact that is not supported by a reference is a distractor. An inappropriate word choice can be a distractor. (I'm sympathetic on this one especially with homophones, since I tend to read by how it sounds in my head and anticipate the ideas that will be coming up next rather than carefully worrying about the text on the screen.) Obvious misspelling can be a distractor. Errors do happen and some go undetected. But one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel so if you've put in some serious thought on the piece do proofread to at the least purge the worst of these from your piece.

Connecting to Course Themes (25%)

This one should be pretty obvious. Part of the reason for the reflections is so you can make connections between course ideas and your own thinking. By being explicit about those it becomes more likely that you'll learn what we are studying with some depth and that you'll retain these ideas after the course has concluded. You do not have to write on the themes I suggest. You may choose your own theme. But you still need to connect back to the ideas in the course and if you do choose your own theme that becomes a larger imperative.

Growth as a Writer (25%)

There are two thoughts here. The first is about learning by doing or what one might call growth en passant. Somewhere around week 12 or 13 I'll want you to write a reflection about the prior reflections so you'll have a sense of this. The other idea is to begin to come to terms with strengths and weaknesses in your writing. Whether to focus on embellishing your strengths or improving on your weakness, some of what you try with the writing is a deliberate effort for improvement. That too should be part of the reflection on reflections and will get you to be a participant in the ideas of Ericsson, et. al. When we have our one-on-ones about your reflections, some of that should be on areas of strength and weakness in the writing, so you can be deliberate with this.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sounds Fish"y" to me

The NY Times today has a sequence of short pieces on advice to entering college Freshmen, including a leadoff piece from the curmudgeonly Stanley Fish. You might be amused by them.

In the magainze section there is an interesting though depressing (if you're an economist) essay by Paul Krugman on the devasting state that macroeconomics finds itself in now after failing miserably to predict the current recession.

Students in 396 would do well by taking a look at the Book Review section, and reading several pieces there to acquaint yourself with the genre and then taking a look at longer reviews that can be found at the New York Review of Books.