Posts Tagged ‘learning’

That didn’t take long

November 3, 2010

I prepared ahead – albeit insufficiently – for November and Nanowrimo.  I’ve had an idea for a novel for some time now and have wanted to try writing it.  I have written short fiction and essays short and long for this blog, a few magazines and my students.  I was ready, I felt, to extend myself…

No point in being wordy now.  It will take an extreme effort of will to continue at this point.

Oh, Nanowrimo, for those unwilling to follow the link, is short for national Novel Writing Month.  The organization is international now, so the name is both cumbersome and incorrect.  Anyway, the goal for Nanowrimo is to type 50,000 words during the month of November.  Quantity is important and quality is not.  This makes sense to me as the first step is a sort of brainstorming, with the expectation of massive revisions coming afterward.

By the end of November first, I was a little behind in my word count, but not disastrously so.  In the late afternoon of November second, I received word that my father-in-law had fallen from a tree -a cultivated persimmon tree, so it was particularly tall – and we spent that evening driving to the hospital and visiting with him.  Still, I could catch up.  However, we made plans while at the hospital to work at the farm all weekend to help the family catch up on their work.

I’ve enjoyed even this half-assed attempt at Nanowrimo and see real value in it.  I hope that I can get it together and continue working on my novel even if I don’t reach 50,000 words.

If you think the idea of thousands of amateurs trying to write novels in November is crazy, you aren’t alone. Laura Miller, at Salon, feels the same way and salutes the reader.

Consider turning away from the self-aggrandizing frenzy of NaNoWriMo and embracing the quieter triumph of Kalen Landow and Melissa Klug’s “10/10/10” challenge: These two women read 10 book in 10 categories between Jan. 1 and Oct. 10, focusing on genres outside their habitual favorites. In her victory-lap blog post, Klug writes of discovering new favorite authors she might otherwise never have encountered, and of her sadness on being reminded that “most Americans don’t read ANY books in a given year, or just one or two.” Instead of locking herself up in a room to crank out 50,000 words of crap, she learned new things and “expanded my reading world.” So let me be the first to say it: Melissa and Kalen, you are the heroes.

American colleges and graduate degrees

October 18, 2010

Scientific American has a long and thought provoking article about the hierarchy of teaching professionals at American universities. Actually, the article appears to be excerpted from Higher Education: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids and what we can do about it.

Here is a list of the hierarchy of contingent faculty, with further details at the link:

Instructors and Lecturers

visiting Faculty -not the celebrity kind


Teaching assistants

The news is grim for these contingents or temps:

Given the implications of these figures, we think that senior professors should be having conversations with first-year graduate students that go something like: “In all honesty, you have less than a one-in-three chance of getting a full-time job as an academic. Your only motive for pursuing your doctorate should be your own intellectual development.”

To become a university professor, one doesn’t need to be a skilled teacher, but a skilled researcher.  The quote below emphasize the point:

Paul D. Umbach at North Carolina State University studied 21,000 faculty members at 148 colleges and found that at schools using lots of parttimers, the regular teaching staff put in fewer hours of preparation than their peers at institutions where adjuncts were rare.

Yet what amazed us is how many contingents are actually effective, a miracle considering the conditions under which they work. Indeed, at nearly every school we visited, when we asked students for the name of a favorite professor, they frequently mentioned a contingent.

We all fill our homes with inexpensive products that are fabricated overseas at Third World wages. At this point, we can’t outsource History 101 to be taught in Bangalore. (Although, as we’ll show in a later chapter, something akin to that is already being done.) What we do instead is hire our own citizens and give them Third World pay. What is ironic—no, it’s tragic—is that these bright men and women are so anxious to ply their profession that they are willing to toil in the academic counterparts of sweatshops and vegetable fields.


I must admit, I have considered a graduate degree specifically as part of increasing my employability when/ if I return to Canada.  I knew it probably wouldn’t help a great deal, but this article has really burst the balloon.

Hand out lecture notes before class: Research Digest blog

September 2, 2010

The Research Digest Blog (Since 2005, bringing you reports on the latest psychology research) offers 9 Evidence-based study tips.

Few of the tips are surprising – having good sleeping habits is not particularly controversial – and a few are attitudinal – “Adopt a growth mindset” and “Believe in yourself” – but one caught my eye as it was for educators rather than students:

Get handouts prior to the lecture. Students given Powerpoint slide handouts before a lecture made fewer notes but performed the same or better in a later test of the lecture material than students who weren’t given the handouts until the lecture was over.

I suspect that, having seen the direction of the lecture, the students knew what was important (to the instructor, at least) and what wasn’t.

When I use google Presentation slides for my classes – I try to do so often, but only a few classes have functioning computers and projectors – I usually post them to the class blog or on edu 2.0, but that is after the class.  I guess I will now post them a few days before class when I can.

Carrots and sticks

April 3, 2010

How can we motivate people to perform optimally?  The Dong-A has some ideas:

In the past, public education was centered on punishment. Students got punished when they were tardy, dozed off in class, failed to properly decorate classrooms, and did not wash their hands. Punishment for bad behavior and no reward for good behavior were the standard in education. Rewards, however, is now considered more effective than punishment. The research of Harvard University professor David Rand supports the idea. His team conducted a study in which poor performers got punished in a team and good performers received awards in another team. The latter showed a better performance.


The article also describes efforts by New York City mayors Bloomberg and Giuliani.  Bloomberg used rewards and punishments to no great success, while Giuliani strictly applied punishments*.

Are carrots and sticks always so useful?  Daniel Pink doesn’t think so.  In his TED talk, he showed that rewards focus a person’s attention so tightly that the creative connections and insights that come naturally to a relaxed person are ignored.  I’ve only started his book, which covers the same ground in more detail.  I did discuss his video here.


* I think these punishments and their effectiveness were described in Freakonomics, in which the authors felt that abortions twenty years previous deserved more credit.  While I clearly have not studied the literature as the authors have, I would point out that correlation does not mean causation and the book gave competing theories- and there are many – little space for discussion.

We knew this already

March 19, 2010

People going through puberty are stupider.

So says a Scientific American article (Podcast, actually). A protein appears in the hippocampus during puberty that interferes, at the cellular level, with learning.

I couldn’t directly find out if this protein or it’s effect goes away after puberty, but the article does mention a hormone that improves memory.