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

Happy 2012!

Well, Joe and Amy, my two older children, are finally quiet in bed after staying up to welcome in the new year. My younger son Josh gave out around 10, and my youngest, Lauryn, made it to 11. Of course, the four dogs zonked out as soon as the food stopped flowing.

I’ve taken a hiatus from blogging during a really busy fall semester–lots of work projects going on in addition to my regular teaching load, and the kids had a busy fall school schedule with homework, projects, and performances. We stuck around town this year for Christmas, and I’ve been slowly “rediscovering” our house, getting caught up on laundry and clearing out the clutter that accumulates over a semester. There have been a lot of topics I’ve wanted to write about, but just haven’t had the time. I’m hoping to get back into a regular shedule of posting in 2012.

For a quick snapshot, here’s what I’m watching and reading:

Book–The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. A wonderfully written first novel, sort of about baseball, mostly about life. Funny and poignant.

Movies–I’m on a Martin Scorcese kick these days. Watched The Aviator and Gangs of New York on DVD and saw Hugo over Thanksgiving. Love his eye–the guy just knows how to tell a story in pure cinematic language. Saw Hugo with the kids and was impressed with how riveted they were to the Harold Lloyd sequences: good film doesn’t have to have lots of special effects; intelligent humor will grab an audience every time. I also just watched Midnight in Paris and Beginners and liked both.

TV–I finally decided to sample Downton Abbey on Netflix and ended up watching all seven episodes of Season One in a single day. The multi-layered plot involving multiple social levels hooked me immediately. I also got interested because I’m not as well-versed in the years leading up to World War I as I’d like to be. The series begins the day after the sinking of the Titanic and ends with Britain declaring war on Germany. Season Two starts up this month and covers the war years.

Oh, and I’ve been playing on the Wii a lot in the past few days with the kids–getting creamed mostly but having fun.

Men, Women, Movies

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve posted some entries about movies, and I guess because the summer is always a big moviegoing season, it makes sense that there would be a lot in the media about summer movies.

The Hangover 2Because a lot of summer movies tend to be in the blockbuster category, I’ve found it interesting that Mahnola Dargis and A.O. Scott have written two pieces about movie audiences–specifically about men and women as two distinct audiences.  Dargis’s article is titled “Few Summer Movies Aimed at Women,” and Scott’s is “Bridesmaids Allows Women to be Funny.”  The implicit, or explicit, argument is that men and women don’t like the same kind of movies and–in the case of comedies–don’t laugh at the same things.  This also has implications in casting, since the belief is that a movie with male leads will do better at the box office than a “chick flick.”

I wonder how much truth is in that premise.  While there’s no denying the box office draw of the Hangover and X-Men franchises, why is it surprising to studios that films like Bridesmaids or Mamma Mia do as well as they do?  Is it because they think women don’t go to movies as much as men or because they think no men will go to see these movies–that the audience is solely female?  Likewise, do the studios assume that the only women going to action movies are on a date and have no say-so in the movie choice?

Even though I’ve brought up at least two separate issues here, I thought I’d try a simple poll regarding comedy.  Is comedy as gender-specific as studios seem to think it is?  You decide.

Manohla Dargis, A.O. Scott, and Boring Movies

Michelle Williams and Shirley Henderson in Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff.”

On June 3,  Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, chief film critics for The New York Times co-wrote a piece titled “In Defense of the Slow and Boring,” in which they argue that not all film need be escapist entertainment, that there is room for movies in which not much happens but in which much is meant.

I found it provocative for a couple of reasons.  For one, it takes me back a few decades when I was in charge of picking the video (it was the 80s) a group of us was going to watch.  At the store, I deliberated long and hard between a film I’d seen recently and thought was great and a “sure-thing” blockbuster.  I couldn’t decide, so I rented both, figuring if they hated my first choice, I had a back-up.  Ten minutes into Babette’s Feast, my friend Mick turned to me and said, “Is anybody going to do anything other than make soup from dried fish?”  I knew I’d lost them and popped in Die Hard.

Dargis and Scott’s column also reminds me of a conversation I once had with my dad, who came in the room when I was home on break from college and asked what I was reading.  I think it was Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  If you’re familiar with it, you know it’s a novel in what what happens is not nearly as important as what the central character thinks about what is happening to her.  After trying in vain to make it sound “interesting” to him, I added that I was reading it for the second time.  “Why would you read a book twice?  Don’t you remember what happened the first time?”  The conversation went downhill from there.

Truth be told, not every art film appeals to me, and I do enjoy movies where things blow up on ten-minute intervals.  But the films that have stayed in my memory the longest have always been those that attempted something fresh, either in a narrative or in a visual sense.  So I find I have an odd assortment of favorite movies: Blade Runner, Star Wars, Adam’s Rib, The Dead, Rear Window, Little Miss Sunshine, and, yes, Die Hard (a thinking man’s action movie), just to name a few.

All of them entertained me and made me think.