What have I become is one of those big questions of life. Often, there is a realization that you have become your parents. This is supposed to be sobering and indicate your assumption that you were going in a different direction has not been realized. I could do far worse than become my parents. My father was a very intellectual, selfless, and calm person. My mother very caring. These are all great traits.
Actually, I think I am becoming one of those characters in Grumpy Old Men. My sudden interest in ice fishing seems to fit with this assessment. It could be worse. I could see myself becoming a character in On Golden Pond.
Anyway, if you find a rotting perch in the back seat of your car, it may have been me.
Every time one of the free and cool online services decides to go out of business or decides I should pay to continue my use, I am reminded that I really should not expect a valued experience to be free. Neither should you.
For me, the latest reminder came from Last.FM. Last.fm is a social music service I started using in 2006. Actually, I paid for this service from the beginning – $4 a month which is pretty expensive for an online service. I like the service because of scrobbling (I am pretty sure this is spelled correctly). Scrobbling allows me to keep track of how frequently I listen to a given song and artist and combines these data from multiple sources (pretty much any digital device). It says I have listed to 183,788 songs since 2006 at the time I wrote this passage. Maybe you don’t care. However, if you did, you might imagine what it took to generate this database backend and maintain the equipment necessary to keep it going. Then there are some fees for the “free” music available through the service.
I bring this service and this reality up because the attitude of so many in my field (educational technology) seem to think content should be free. I find this annoying. They assume they should be paid for what they do (teach, consult, keynote), but evidently assume content should be donated.
You need to pay for content – you must send money, view ads, or give up your personal information, or subsidize through taxes or donations. Make your choice. It really does not matter why content is used (another example of the ends do not justify the means). If you have convinced yourself that you deserve free stuff, sooner or later the provider will be unable to meet your expectations. As some have argued, information may want to be free, but this claim fails to recognize that those who create information have the same needs as the rest of us.
Sometimes I just feel the need to turn off the realities of the world and escape. I cannot watch any more CNN. More information will not bring understanding to events that cannot be understood from a sane perspective. I am closer to understanding the actions of a mad man than of those willing to put weapons in his hands.
The position of the NRA is not rationale nor is it patriotic – surely elementary school teachers or children could not be expected to pack fire arms. The delusion that citizens have a right to offensive weapons has not been an argument of substance for more than a century. Guns do not kill people, people do? Perhaps, but assault rifles certainly increase the speed of the process.
Time for lawmakers to act based on conscience rather than on concern for their re-election coffers. Two years now to take some meaningful action on this and other matters.
Me – I have had enough for a few weeks.
The end of the semester is approaching and all profs hear many excuses. I encountered a unique explanation for a missed exam today and I am inclined to believe this one is credible.
So, I was in the middle of University Avenue heading off to administer a different examination. I student spotted me.
Student: Dr. Grabe, Dr. Grabe, do you have a minute?
Me: Sure – just let me get across the street.
Student: I missed the exam yesterday.
Student: I got arrested.
Me: Oh, really. (pause for deep thought) I am going to be back in my office in an hour or so. Can you take it then?
Student (with a look indicating I must be somewhat dense): I can’t take it right now. I haven’t had a chance to study.
Me: (puzzled look)
Student: I have been in jail!
Me: (with the fog clearing) Oh, OK. How about the next day then?
This is not the first “I was in jail” excuse I have encountered. You do this job long enough and all possible options are exhausted.
Thanks to all for recognizing my birthday. Evidently, when Facebook was new, I created an account and included my birthdate. You all evidently know much more about Facebook than I and have received some notification that has prompted you to contact me with birthday wishes.
Allow me to respond.
1) Thank-you – this particular birthday was not that big of a deal, but I appreciate your thoughtfulness. Do not get me wrong. I am quite pleased that this birthday happened. By the way, the next birthday will be more significant (unless some opportunities I am expecting are regarded as entitlements I should be able to put off).
Please do not expect that I will reciprocate when your birthday rolls around. There must be some Facebook feature I do not know how to turn on that would tell me when a greeting would be appropriate. Know that I wish all of you the appropriate greetings and value you as a friend (used in the actual rather than Facebook way).
I am seriously far over my limit for social media and Facebook is not one of my priorities.
2) To respond to your queries regarding how I am doing – both Cindy and I are doing well. We are both still employed and both think this is a good thing for now. We are in good health. I, at least, find that being older brings some freedoms I did not recognize and probably did not have at a younger age. Within reasonable limits we pretty much do what we want.
The elections are past and is time for all of us to refocus. For me, this will be a good thing.
I do have one more thing to say. At a time when “leaving a better country and world to our children” received a lot of political play, it seems strange that global warming and sustainable energy were ignored. This bothered me. There were plenty of ads from big oil and clean coal (they keep saying this, but it should be cleaner coal). There was big money behind the ads and a focus on the economics of low energy costs. Then there was that “I am an energy voter” campaign.
North Dakota owes the relative prosperity of the state the emerging oil industry (and Canadian shoppers). However, it has the potential to be an energy leader in other areas. The problem is that the oil industry is immediate and easy money. Alternative energy will not be immediately competitive but it has extremely important long term potential. Politicians in tight contests want to appear fiscally responsible discouraging vision and a long term view. Why back anything that is risky and costly?
I am frustrated that developing wind energy – an obvious opportunity to anyone who has spend time outdoors in North Dakota – received little attention. Despite the focus on jobs, jobs, jobs – the failure to encourage growth has resulted in job loses in this energy sector (LM Wind, DMI Wind).
Energy storage and transmission are obviously inefficient and expensive. I am assuming these are problems that science can address. However, you cannot solve such problems if you ignore them. I have long been a fan of Tom Friedman (see Hot, flat and crowded for his view of the future – $10 on your Kindle). He suggests that clean energy be the “man on the moon” program of our generation. Why not take on this challenge for the same reasons President Kennedy “chose to go to the moon” – not because it is easy, but because it is hard. It is a challenge we need to accept.
UND would be in a great position to drive this agenda. We have an energy research center and quality engineering programs. We are well positioned to take advantage of the wind and there is money in the state. We should start by erecting a wind turbine on campus. What a great opportunity to encourage a STEM focus.
Those of us who teach courses in psychology must constantly battle the notion that human behavior is common sense. While we are perfectly capable of observing our world and creating personal models to explain what we observe to ourselves, there are simply things beyond our understanding AND things personal biases prevent us from considering in our analysis.
This is obviously the height of the political season and as such we are encouraged by the those attempting to influence us to accept various positions. The notion that lowering taxes across the board will stimulate the economy is one such position. This logic has been presented over and over. Despite the consistent lack of evidence to support this position, there is some intuitive appeal – more money in my pocket and I will spend more providing greater opportunity for others.
I am not an economist, but I do believe in the data. If I would be asked but someone demanding an explanation why lowering the taxes for all does not improve the economy I guess I would propose the following. The wealth that is created in this country is far from equally distributed and this inequity is increasing rather than decreasing. Those with great wealth do not distribute their wealth in proportion to what they take in. They collect resources and consolidate their assets. Those with lesser wealth tend to spend in proportional to what they take in. This differential situation means the discrepancy increases rather than decreases. Taxes provide basic services and those without wealth are in far greater need of such services. Lack of basic services and opportunities also exacerbates the spiral that concentrates wealth.
We tend to accept anecdotal evidence to refute the spiral I describe. We want to believe in rags to riches stories. Clearly such stories exist. However, one must also take into account the more frequent stories of those who lack the resources to invest in themselves and their children necessary to even approximate a fair game. Talent is randomly distributed, but the resources and opportunities necessary to develop and apply talent are not.
I have conducted a detailed content analysis of the messages of those running for office in North Dakota. Here is what I have learned.
1) It is very important to be born to parents who were also born to parents who lived in North Dakota. No matter how long you live here evidently political office requires that you take your first breath within the state. Longevity of your family in the state appears important in refuting the frequent claim that “he/she is not one of us”.
2) Killing stuff and carrying a gun is good. Other outdoor activities such as fishing or biking are of less value. Oh, there also seems to be some value in wandering aimlessly through farm fields. To me, this seems a good way to meet one of those guys carrying a gun.
3) Wear blue jeans whenever possible. Never admit you are a lawyer and you bought the jeans for the election season.
4) Use the word “fighting” as frequently as possible. Evidently politicians are a very aggressive lot. Perhaps we should consider a more physical alternative to the debates just to see whether the candidates are really as tough as they say.
5) Make it clear that you want nothing to do with Washington (despite the reality that this is where you would like to end up). Remember you are from here and do not want to “go Washington”. Personally, I kind of liked Washington except for the heat.
7) Always appear to be knowledgeable and be shown doing the talking. I always wonder what the candidates have to say to the guys on the big tractors, the engineers in the power plants, or the university researchers (it always seems scientists with fancy equipment doing medical research). “Can I drive?” “What does this button do?” The conversations would likely be less interesting if you really knew what was said.
8) Read a book to a kid and sit on a really small chair.
9) Always grow up poorer than your opponent, but be wealthier now.
10) Say cool things – “I say what I mean and I do what I say.” Not me – I say random stuff to confuse people.
This is just a weird idea? Florida is considering a differential tuition model (not weird). The idea is that different majors will cost different amounts (not weird). STEM majors (science, technology, mathematics) will be charged at a lower level than students with other majors even though actual costs in STEM areas are significantly higher (weird).
I work in a Psychology department and I do not feel responsible for defending the interest so many students have in the content of the field in which I teach. Should our students be penalized because they have a preference for psychology rather than physics? What I can say with certainty is that the tuition dollars generated by the students enrolled in psychology courses is massive in contrast to the tuition dollars generated in many other programs (even weighted for the number of faculty lines) and the funds do not go the department but are used to subsidize other programs. The proposed Florida model would go further and would mean that some programs that are already cost effective and supporting other programs would be made more costly in hopes of shifting students in another direction.
I have always understood education as a matter of choice. You make the choice and you deal with the consequences. This situation raises so many questions about choice and funding. Should academic institutions take an advocacy position in order to influence the majors of students? Who should subsidize the cost of more expensive programs – tax payers, those taking the expensive courses, those taking inexpensive courses? Should tuition be based on the actual cost of instruction or popularity? What is the purpose of education – have we now moved toward a notion of economic development and occupational preferences rather than some broader notion of personal development?
The flap over Minnesota not accepting Coursera caught my attention. I suppose this was because I work at a University just across the river from Minnesota and I was curious as to what our academic neighbors to the east had in mind. It turns out it was a trivial issue that once understood was dismissed and Coursera is available.
I still do not understand what are perceived to be the novel benefits of the Coursera model and I think there are many flawed assumptions at work. There also seems to be a concern among some that they may be left out and upper-level administrators seem worried their institutions will be not be included among the elite offering courses. Big name institutions do not need to increase enrollment and they desire the public attention they might receive for offering something for free. Not really a big sacrifice.
Allow a brief personal anecdote and then a related argument. One of the courses I teach is “Introduction to Psychology”. This is the type of large enrollment course that might seem ideal for the efficient, “capture the presentation of the master teacher” model that seems to be at the core of the argument for offering free shared courses from “prestige” institutions. A few years ago, before this efficiency perspective emerged, I made use of iTunes U to accomplish a personal goal. I was interested in identifying content and methods of explanation I might mimic in some of the topical areas of my course for which I felt I had no personal expertise. Academics tend to be specialists at the University of North Dakota or more elite institutions. For example, I am an educational psychologist and as such I cannot see clients as a clinician. This is a good thing. However, when I must introduce first year college students to psychopathology and psychotherapy, I cannot draw on my experiences in practice or research. What I found “sitting through” lectures from several Intro courses from a couple of the institutions on the Coursera list was that the content was little different from my own and in at least one case the method of presentation more primitive. I decided I would be better of consulting with my colleagues with specific areas of specialization I lack who also teach the Intro course.
I would propose the biggest source of variability among courses is the quality of students rather than the quality of the instructors. Students both help educate and push each other. What you should be looking to do if you are searching for a productive learning experience is to interact with bright and motivated students.
Better presentations are possible. What comes to mind relevant to the specific example I am using would be the Zimbardo Discovering Psychology series (this is to an older version of the videos, but you will get the idea). This series has been around for a long time and have been updated as the delivery system advanced and new content was appropriate. The series had high production value and probably a substantial budget. There was a very polished presenter but also lots of field or lab based video to illustrate, explain, and exemplify. I think when teaching Intro Psych that a talking head with PowerPoints is likely very similar across many institutions. The skills in presenting basic content is not necessarily a function of other important academic skills such as research productivity and quality presenters may be found in a variety of institutions.
To be realized. the potential in this idea of sharing free courses at the level of the presentation would require a substantial investment of the type made in the Discovering Psychology series. Substantial investments might also be made in other areas such as improved assessment and study experiences. So I certainly believe there may be ways to take advantage of the economics of scale, but putting up an existing course falls far short of meaningful change. Any institution could accomplish a similar thing with courses taught locally perhaps saving on duplication across multiple sections. We pretty much decided against doing this a decade ago. So, if those institutions wanting to offer their courses would invest heavily in leveraging the potential of technology to improve the presentation component of instruction, I would be more impressed. This situation may be different with other courses I am not qualified to evaluate.