Saturday, May 30, 2009

The MBA vs. the Witch

Here's a little comic relief Dilbert

Friday, May 29, 2009

Klingon - the language of Linguists!

Well OK, maybe I am exaggerating a little bit, but it's quite interesting.

I thought that for the last post of May it would make sense to close the month with something linguistics related given that this semester was all linguistics all the time :-) I was reading this article on Slate called There's No Klingon Word for Hello. I honestly didn't expect it to be so interesting! For instance I did not know that Klingon was a completely developed language, grammar an all!

The following really surpised me:

But Klingon uses prefixes rather than suffixes, and instead of having six or seven of them, like most romance languages, it has 29. There are so many because they indicate not only the person and number of the subject (who is doing) but also of the object (whom it is being done to).

Klingon has 36 verb suffixes and 26 noun suffixes that express everything from negation to causality to possession to how willing a speaker is to vouch for the accuracy of what he says. By piling on these suffixes, one after the other, you can pack a lot of meaning on to a single word in Klingon—words like nuHegh'eghrupqa'moHlaHbe'law'lI'neS, which translates roughly to: They are apparently unable to cause us to prepare to resume honorable suicide (in progress)

The article is worth a read. It was interesting that people are just going to the dictionary section of the Klingon dictionary and completely skip the grammar section - this kinda sounds like every other language I have ever encountered. People string together words without caring about declensions and tenses and so on :-)

My interest is peaked, I want to learn Klingon!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Language may be encoded in DNA...

I read this over at Wired a few weeks ago - that culture may be encoded in DNA.

Knowledge is passed down directly from generation to generation in the animal kingdom as parents teach their children the things they will need to survive. But a new study has found that, even when the chain is broken, nature sometimes finds a way.

I suppose what your definition of culture is. I guess that in this instant culture is likened to Chomsky's Language Acquisition Device, and it's not culture as we tend to think of culture as an interconnection between place, people, practices, communities, concepts and things. I would say that the ability to produce what we would define as culture may be a genetic trait, but culture in and of itself is not in DNA.

If it were we could take an adopted child from the US, move them to some remote Himalayan mountain, and that child will have the culture of his American parents. This is obviously a looney idea, however the idea that the child will pick up the culture of his adopted Himalayan parents and that he will pick up American culture if and when he moves back is something that is proven.

It was interesting to read about the finches in the article though...

Monday, May 25, 2009

The end of the University as we know it

I know, I know, this is a few weeks late - but better late than never :-)

In any case, I was reading this Op-Ed piece on the New York Times. The thesis of this op-ed piece is that:

Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost

I was going to write a long post about the article and the comments I read, however there are about 500 comments (as I write this blog post) and I don't want to write ad nauseum about the subject (my evernote note about this topic is quite long LOL). So in lieu of an extra long post I will respond to some of Taylor's (op-ed writer) main points.

The division-of-labor model of separate departments is obsolete and must be replaced with a curriculum structured like a web or complex adaptive network. Responsible teaching and scholarship must become cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural.

I agree with this. Having been in a number of degree program I can see the interconnections between the different disciplines. Some bonds are strong, some are weak, but bonds between the topics exist. What I disagree with is that we should abandon siloed and specialized research. Both types of research have merit and interdisciplinary research can't yield results on its own.

Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.

OK, now this is simply lunacy. This type of market based education falls under the same lunacy as teaching customer service as a science that I wrote about earlier this year. If we just researched Space Exploration during the Kennedy years when we were racing against the soviets to get a piece of metal into space, we wouldn't have a space program today. If people didn't research networks and computing we wouldn't have personal laptops and the internet. Who dictates what is research worth and what not? This point is just short sighted and idiotic.

Increase collaboration among institutions. All institutions do not need to do all things and technology makes it possible for schools to form partnerships to share students and faculty. Institutions will be able to expand while contracting.

OK, this is not a bad idea. Distance education needs to be improved, but this is doable. There are universities abroad that specialize in some disciplines and students go there because of that. Of course this would mean that you would need some sort of nationalized standard to make sure that what you take in college A is acceptable in College B.

Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text.

I partly agree with this, and partly disagree. This goes hand-in-hand with point #1. There IS need for specialized research, as banal and irrelevant as it may seem to some people, it IS useful to others. This is how knowledge is formed. So what is this guy did his dissertation on footnotes. This may prove to be interconnected to something else in the future that seems more interesting to you! Knowledge is not monolithic, it builds upon many little pieces that need to be present. I do however believe that PhD students should have the option to do an interdisciplinary study and have the option for an interdisciplinary dissertation.

Expand the range of professional options for graduate students. Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained. It is, therefore, necessary to help them prepare for work in fields other than higher education

This is where Taylor REALLY shows that he does not what he is talking about. I am a Graduate Student and I've been one for the last five years. With my MBA I can go find jobs in many places outside of academia. The same with my other three Masters degrees. Here Taylor means PhD students and not Graduate students! PhDs can work outside of academia, they just need to apply themselves. I do agree that the academe can do a better job at preparing people for non academic careers, however, if you want a non-academic career and you want a PhD, why are YOU, the student, not actively thinking about YOUR future? Why would you expect someone else to groom you? You go to school for education, not to be prepared for a job (although that is a nice side-effect)

Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure. [...] Once tenure has been granted, there is no leverage to encourage a professor to continue to develop professionally or to require him or her to assume responsibilities like administration and student advising. Tenure should be replaced with seven-year contracts, which, like the programs in which faculty teach, can be terminated or renewed.

Again, this is a lunacy. I think there are flaws in the tenure system, however you only hear about the bad apples. I know many tenured faculty that do produce a lot. Some do it because they love research, some do it for altruistic reasons and others do it to pat themselves on the back. Research is produced, no doubt about it. Students are advised, and committee work is undertaken. Could they do more? Sure they could, but the current incentives system work on production of research, so that is their main focus. Abolishing tenure isn't going to fix this because are Taylor said his focus is still RESEARCH!

Now as I said there are a TON of comments on this story, all worth reading. There are two things that I wanted to point out to the miffed students on the board that say they wished they had more applicable to the job world and they are happy that they now know that the professors they had tried to mold them into something of a mini-professor.

The first is said eloquently by another commenter:

Despite our frequent attempts to make it so, education is not job training.

The second is that every authority figure tries to mold you into a mini version of themselves. Your dad tried to make you like a mini-version of himself, your high school teachers the same, your college teachers the same, and one day when you get into the working world your immediate managers will do the same. This comes as a surprise?

Anyway - that's it - hope this wasn't too long LOL :-)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Twitter in real life

Since my other blog is out of commission for maintenance and Web 2.0 is the "it" thing for education now-a-days, here's a little Friday humor for all of you - Twitter in real life. I wonder what this guy would sound like if he were a professor...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The future of e-learning is social...

I don't rant often...or rather I hope I don't rant often, however I think this will be a a ranting post. I was reading Jane's e-learning blog, specifically a post on how the future of e-learning is social.

ALL learning is social, at least all the learning had in a school, with an instructor and other students in the room. Recently I keep hearing about Web 2.0 and social learning and it amazes me to no end that social learning is the new cool thing and that is the future of learning. Social Learning is new now just like bell-bottoms and ripped jeans are new now - i.e. they are not new people! Just because YOU did not know about it doesn't mean it did not exist prior to you thinking about it. New technology is just allowing us to expand out social reach outside of the space/time constraint of meeting in class.

Now I have to say this, this is not a critique of Jane. I found her presentation quite interesting and useful. The critique is directed toward those individuals who think that learning (any kind of learning) is not social and that "social learning" will solve all of our learning and performance problems.

OK, end rant - hopefully it wasn't that bad.

Monday, May 18, 2009

No PowerPoint? Simply use Prezi?

For a few weeks now I've been using a piece of Web 2.0 software called Prezi.

I read this blog post named Throw Away your PowerPoints, Simply Use Prezi, and I knew that I had to try it.

To be honest, I really didn't read the blog entry carefully because now that I have used Prezi for a few weeks I know what this means. Ignatia (blog author) says:

Prezi enables anyone to quickly build a multimedia rich presentation/visual/mindmap... that offers all the flash dynamics you can wish for.

and she quickly follows it up with:

This is not a software for the meek and weary, it is for those of us who like to jump, run, dive and stand out in a crowd.

These two sentences are actually contradictory to one another! Prezi is NOT fast, and it does not enable Everyone to create multimedia rich presentations. Well, OK. Perhaps I am a bit harsh on Prezi. It does allow everyone to create something in that the software is free (unlike Microsoft's PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote).

However there are two things that I did not like:

1. The learning curve is a bit steep

You can do the basics with little trouble. If you want to do more advanced stuff, this application will suck a lot of your time! I can create better presentations with PowerPoint, Keynote or OpenOffice in less time compared to Prezi.

2. Free versus paid

I know that these guys want to make some money, however I don't want my content held up hostage in a free account and I don't want to pay annually. I would prefer to plop $79 for iWork and create dazzling presentations with Keynote.

On the plus side, it is an interesting idea for a Mind Map application.

Don't get me wrong. In the hands of a trained person this application can actually be quite good. I just think that a novice user who isn't quite comfortable with themselves presenting in from of crowds AND doesn't know basic design principles won't see a ton of value in Prezi. Give it a try though, don't take my word for it :-)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Colleges obsolete by 2020? Really?

Anytime a bozo takes the stage and proclaims something radical it seems to stir up the educational community. In similar vain an article circulated the interwebs a few weeks ago about David Wiley who is getting a ton of publicity over his comments that College will be obsolete by 2020. I suppose in David's case bad press is good press....

In any case his idea that colleges will be obsolete by 2020 revolve around the idea that technology such as podcasts, videos on services like you tube, e-Learning and m-Learning, communities of practice and freely available content will replace how people gain knowledge.

Don't get me wrong. I love technology and all that it can do to help in education, but let's be serious, we won't be replacing colleges with downloadable podcasts any time soon. The reason you go to college is not just to get an information dump. If that were the case colleges would have close down ages ago because people would be going to free public libraries for their content. You go to college to interact with people. To learn from them, to argue, to debate, to agree and disagree. Knowledge is not simply an information dump from book to brain (or in David's case from podcast to brain). It is a process.

Podcast, and other tech are great for life long learners to continue to update their skills, but as a primary means of education without an instructor? I think not.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

50 years of Strunk and White

Or...rather...50 years of bad grammar advice!

I was reading this article on the Chronicle of Higher Ed a few weeks back and I didn't get an opportunity to fully savor it, so I re-read it.

As a typical American undergraduate student Strunk and White was a required book, a style manual that we had to abide by. I remember really disliking my English 101 and 102 classes, but I don't remember why. Perhaps Strunk and White was one of the reasons - I have completely blocked the experience from memory it seems :-)

In any case, the article was QUITE interesting and I recommend that you read it, even if you are not that much into writing or grammar or linguistics.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The finish line

This is it!

Today is the day!

Spring classes are over. The papers have been written. They've been proof-read and edited many, many, many times, and the projects have been completed.

The papers will be handed in today!

I suppose that there is that issue of that one final exam that I have to do for next week, but eh...I'll celebrate today :-)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mediocre U.? Huh?

I was reading this opinion piece on the Chronicle of Higher Education on Careers. The author reports back on a forum discussion where people talk about your first job influencing your career. Essentially should you go get a teaching job right after you get your PhD, or should you publish your heart out and try to get to that R1 institution where fame and fortune lies (or so they say).

I quite honestly don't get where this vitriol is coming from. Why is it that teaching faculty get little respect. If you want a 5/5 course load, why shouldn't you be judged on your teaching ability? Why are we hearing all this whining about getting a 3/3 course load and time for research and if you go teach at a community college you're not as good as someone in an R1 (research) institution.

People go to college to learn. They attend college for educational purposes (well that and Frat parties if you are going to one of the party school teeheehee), so why isn't there an expectation that these superstar faculty (or those who wish to attain superstar status) complain about teaching and about applying to Mediocre U.

What makes a University Mediocre is the quality of its faculty. If the faculty try hard and they succeed to educate and change the lives of people who come in through those doors, the university is not mediocre. It kinda seems to me that these guys are ranting because they want to be part of an Old-Boys Network, but they've done doodly squat to prove their teaching ability and their ability to do research.

One quote that I liked was this. It applies to ALL jobs you apply to:
But when you are on the market, you cannot afford to internalize the dialogue of "crap universities" vs. "places where I belong." Because, as others have noted, if you have the (mis)fortune of interviewing at a school like mine (we prefer the term "regional comprehensive," thanks, as opposed to "s***hole"), you won't be able to conceal that attitude as well as you think you will. We will smell it on you. The senior folks in my department are trained at sniffing it out. And then we will not hire you, despite your fancy degrees and publications. I saw it happen this year on a search, which is why I offer this cautionary perspective.

OK, enough of a rant LOL

Friday, May 8, 2009

Why do you share?

I was reading a post the other day called Who owns information. It's been quite a few years since my Knowledge Management class, but I think I've read the article that Jane is referring to.

I think the question here is not Who owns the information, but rather Why do you share information. In my knowledge management class we went through different ideas a tactics to use to get employees who have a wealth of knowledge in certain areas to write KB (knowledge base) articles so that employees who are not in the know can access this KB and tap into the knowledge that these people have.

If you are part of an institution trying to get your members to engage in a community of practice your job is cut out for you. One of the ways to encourage employees contribute is to create a happy and positive environment in which the employees feel like sharing.

If the environment is negative employees will most likely not share what they know because it gives them power. The trick here is to defuse a negative environment and determine what the root causes are because this goes beyond knowledge management.

If the environment is a bit of a gray area - no discontent, but also not terribly excited, then you can give incentives to people to contribute. These may range from a simple pat in the back, to bonuses (extra cash, extra vacation time, an amazon gift certificate, etc.) if the knowledge contributed has been given a thumbs up (i.e. people found it helpful).

If people are generally content, they will contribute for altruistic reasons.

In an ad-hoc, non-company sponsored Community of practice I personally think that true altruism is generally not the case.

I think that there is a tit-for-tat, even at a subconscious level. If I for example post a link with some interesting resource in my community of practice, this has the potential to give me a bump in credibility - an ego boost if you will. It may also encourage other people to post something that I may find valuable that I did not know about.

I may find new friends, I may be offered a new job, I may find a job for a friend who's been out of work. I may just need to have a sense of belonging and a community of practice may be it. Whatever the reward may be, there is always a reward and it falls somewhere on Maslow's pyramid

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Denied! You can't follow me on twitter!

I was reading this blog post on Donald Clark's blog on the subject of twitter followers. Luckily the incidents that he describes are not happening to me with as much frequency - because my tweets are private. I follow about 50 people, and 40 people follow me. The people I follow I want to follow, and the people that follow me are people that I think are interesting and I would like to interact with.

Of course, I come across some twitter accounts who follow a boat load of people and when I look at their tweets, they are all blog post announcements. Quite honestly if your tweets don't interest me, I am not going to allow you to follow me.

There seems to be a rat race on twitter to get the most followers. To me, content is what matters. If I would like to follow you (even if I can't because I am inundated with tons of new info) - you can follow me. I don't care how many people read my tweets (after all they are private), but I do care to read what interesting people are saying on the net.

Where is this rant going? Errr... I don't know ;-)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cut....and Paste. Cut!....and Paste!

The title of this blog post should be read with the same annunciation as the 'iron and sulfur' skit in Strindberg and helium. I need to find a way to incorporate Utterli into the blog.

Anyway, I digress. I saw this follow up PhD comic strip and it reminded me very much about how I go about writing papers.

First I go to TextEdit and I outline my sections. Then I got into word and I create styles for the headings, subheadings, and body for the text. I add in some Lorem Ipsum text to act as placeholder for what I will write. Then copy...and paste. Copy! and that the dummy text + dummy headings are as many as the sections as I have to write. Then I add a bibliography section plus a cover page + table of contents for good measure.

Once I am done I have a complete skeleton for my paper. Too bad that Lorem Ipsum text won't suffice for the paper heh :-)

This method helps me focus when writing long papers. What kind of a writer are you?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Calling it a "science" doesn't make it so...

I was reading this article on the Chronicle of Higher Ed recently. The article is about teaching customer service as a science. Please forgive my naiveté but calling something a science does not make it so!

While there are some scientific elements - what is referred to as social science - such as sociology and psychology, trying to make a whole degree program out of customer service is just plain silly. Customer service is common sense. In addition, why is this field completely separate from management studies in general? Shouldn't managers know what good customer service is and practice it?

The article was a it short (news reporting), but the comments were quite interesting (as they usually are). I got a chuckle out of this comment:

Interesting when manners, etiquette, common sense, and decency are items that may be turned into a “degree program.”

ConSc 201 – Anatomy of a Smile.
ConSc 204 – History of “Thank You.”
ConSci 215 – Pricing Strategies for Lost Customers
ConSc 225 – Logic of On-Time Delivery.
ConSc 323 – Mastering the Telephone.
ConSc 341 – The Human Side of Voice Response
ConSci 401 – Anticipation of Consumer Needs
ConSc 410 – Web Design for Efficiency and Detail
ConsSc- 415 – Philos of A Job Well Done
ConSc 499 – Psych of the “Bad Day” Excuse
ConSc 500 – Blame Analysis
ConSc 600-What Mommy and Daddy should have taught Me.