Dog Day Deliberations

Tybee Island

We are in the last days of summer, or so it seems. Even though the equinox isn’t until late September, and Labor Day is three weeks away, It feels as if the relative slow pace we’ve been in is quickening. The kids start school in four days, and all the new college students roll into town on Monday for orientation. Continue reading

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad MOOC?”–from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Here’s a link to an interesting article from The Chronicle of Higher Education about using MOOCs as part of a traditional face-to-face class. It is a good follow-up to my last post.

Grading the MOOC University – NYTimes.com

I read an interesting piece recently in The New York Times by A.J. Jacobs, a writer for Esquire magazine. It’s on the Time’s website under the title, Grading the MOOC University. Jacobs describes his experience taking several open online courses from such providers as Coursera, Udacity, and Edx.

I found the following excerpt intriguing: Continue reading

New Test for Computers – Grading Essays at College Level – NYTimes.com

New Test for Computers – Grading Essays at College Level – NYTimes.com.

edx officesI just read this piece by John Markoff of The New York Times and found it intriguing. Apparently, we’re still trying to figure out a way of automating the learning process. Apart from the fact that students are figuring out ways to do end runs around the artificial intelligence essay grading software, does a computer tell students when they have hit on idea worth exploring further?

Liberal Arts Majors Didn’t Kill the Economy – The Atlantic

LiberalArts2.jpg.jpgI have been woefully behind in posting to my blog. A lot of my time in the last year has been spent reading about the present state of liberal arts education, as well as working on a task force to reform our general education curriculum–which has been exciting to do. As such, my ears perk up when I come across articles related to this subject. There have been a lot I cold have posted in the last year, and maybe I’ll dig some of them up, but a friend just alerted me to the following piece from The Atlantic Monthly. It’s a provocative piece that runs counter to some of the other headlines we’ve been seeing lately: Liberal Arts Majors Didn’t Kill the Economy – The Atlantic.

“Beam me up, Scotty, if you remember how”

computer nerdOK, so I had my first “synchronous” session with my online class two nights ago. This is when you all log in together at the same time, using a service such as Adobe Connect Meeting. The description that follows is an illustration of the phrase, “pride goeth before a fall,” since I consider myself somewhat tech-savvy.

The meeting was to begin at 9:00 pm, so at 8:45 I got set up and logged in. No one was there yet, so I dashed to the fridge for a soft drink and went back. 8:50–still no one, not even my cohost for the session. 8:55–still no one, so I sent out a quick email reminder. 9:00–room empty. What was going on? As I stared at my screen, it suddenly hit me–I had logged into the PRACTICE session I’d had a week ago to become familiar with the software. I frantically logged out and logged back into the right session, and there everybody was. I felt like the stereotypical freshman who reads his schedule incorrectly and ends up in the wrong room.

To make matters worse, my connection wasn’t good, so I kept getting booted out. Jennifer, my cohost and one of our reference librarians, dutifully kept everything going smoothly as chat messages appeared at the bottom of the screen: “Is Dr. Gobin back yet?” “I think he was for a minute.”

“YES, I’m here,” I practically shouted into my microphone, which had turned off during the reboot. It was like a bad episode from The Twilight Zone, where I was trapped in a parallel universe and nobody could see or hear me.

I may be being a little melodramatic–the evening went fine overall–but I did wonder why I was having connection problems especially since I was using a wired connection. I discovered the reason the next morning as I went to reconnect the yellow cable to my Wii console. I had in fact unplugged the wrong end of the yellow cable, meaning I was plugged into nowhere the night before and had been using our wi-fi connection without realizing it. This from a guy who does actually know how to program a VCR (what’s a VCR, you ask).

I will never again feel smug when a student asks me how to save a file.

The Algorithm Didn’t Like My Essay–The New York Times

computer reading a bookIn a recent New York Times, there was an article by Randall Stross,The Algorithm Didn’t Like My Essay.” I found it interesting because I had posted back in May on a similar article about “robograding.” Stross writes about how consistent computer-scored essays are to human-scored essays in standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He then postulates that using computerized essay grading could free up human resources to interact with students on more meaningful issues at more meaningful levels.

While I don’t disagree with him on a philosophical level–what teacher doesn’t want ways to work smarter and not burn out on repetitive tasks–the fact remains that at present there is no substitute for human interaction when it comes to written expression. For the computerized scoring functions, the grammar and style checker that comes standard with Word does about as well as the standalone programs that supposedly excel at finding errors or at rating levels of sophistication. But none of these programs actually “reads” what a student has written. They can’t detect irony, they can’t identify falsehood, and they can’t recognize empty ideas.

The dilemma is that there are certain assessments that cannot be done quickly or automatically–at least not if they are to mean anything. Perhaps we should eliminate written essays from any kind of standardized tests. Stroll points out that even human scorers of such tests typically spend three minutes or less on each essay. Having been one of these scorers, I would agree with that estimate. In such settings, you train yourself to look for very specific things in a piece of writing; most of them relate more to modes of expression rather than modes of thought. It reminds me of Billy Crystal’s line from years ago, “it is better to look good than to feel good, dahling.”

In the next week, the students in my summer online composition course will turn in their rough drafts of their first essay, and they will then spend two days reading each others’ writing and commenting on it (as will I). Then they will go back to the drawing board (I hope) and spend time wrestling not just with comma splices but with the ideas that need further development. I am just nosy enough to want to know what they really thought about the readings I chose for the course, and I am naive enough to believe our future leaders in business, technological innovation, parenting, and education will be those who were more concerned with the content of their ideas than with the “color” of those ideas’ skin (apologies to Martin Luther King, Jr.).