Thursday, December 5. 2013
It has been a year since I donated some money to Wikipedia and I received a reminder email from them. With all the free and open out there - and I am a big proponent of it - it's easy to forget that free often takes capital.
Jimmy Wales reminds us that:
If all our past donors simply gave again today, we wouldn't have to worry about fundraising for the rest of the year. Please help us get back to improving Wikipedia.
Tuesday, December 3. 2013
Yada Yada: Using Seinfeld, Pooh, Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Popular Culture To Teach Serious Stuff
I wrote an earlier version of this post back in 2010 and focused on some academics using the TV series Seinfeld in their courses. But in fixing some broken links in that post, I discovered a whole industry has popped up using popular TV shows to teach more serious stuff.
Now, you can find material on using everything from using How I Met Your Mother
to teach philosophy and popular culture, to using Doctor Who (Bigger on the Inside) to teach. As Chris Hansen (editor of Ruminations, Peregrinations, and Regenerations: A Critical Approach to Doctor Who ) says: "Do you want theories and contradictions of time travel? It’s in there. Do you want a deep examination of the nature of identity, as understood through the Doctor and his regenerative ability? It’s in there."
What got me to jump into this rabbit hole was Seinfeld which ran for nine seasons on NBC. I have seen every episode. Multiple times. In our household, Seinfeld references are a common thing.
The phrase that was always attached to the show (and became a meme in the show-within-the-show that George and Jerry create) was that it was a “show about nothing.” But almost every episode is about at least three different stories which are often very cleverly intertwined.
Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer encounter odd people and unusual situations that are surprisingly not so different from our own lives. For example, have you ever had to deal with a rental car agency at an airport? Then you can probably identify with Jerry's consternation at a reservation that doesn't actually reserve a car for you. They can TAKE a reservation. They just can't HOLD it. And holding it is what really matters.
There's a good classroom discussion-starter in that scene for a business class. That's true for many of the episodes.
As a child of television, you can always get my attention with a clip. I'm not original in this idea of using TV clips in class and some academics have decided to use Seinfeld in their classrooms.
I first saw a piece on a Wall Street Journal blog about a professor using the show in an economics course.
“This is a paper about nothing.” So begins Princeton economics professor Avinash Dixit’s academic paper “ An Option Value Problem from Seinfeld.” The paper uses option pricing theory to deconstruct Elaine’s decisions in the “Seinfeld” episode number 119 “ The Sponge.”
In it, Elaine’s preferred contraceptive sponge goes off the market, sparking an ultimately fruitless hunt for a greater supply. Her limited supply of contraceptive sponges forces her to reassess their usage, and decide whether a potential partner is “sponge-worthy” or not.
Using these clips (as well as clips from other television shows or movies) makes economic concepts come alive, making them more real for students. Ultimately, students will start seeing economics everywhere – in other TV shows, in popular music, and most importantly, in their own lives.
“You are deciding whether or not to make an investment decision,” Prof. Dixit says. “The mathematical techniques are exactly the same as financial options.”
There is also a site called "The Economics of Seinfeld" that has the nice URL of YadaYadaYadaEcon.com (an inside Seinfeld joke). The site creators select clips from the shows and suggest economic concepts that might be taught using them.
For example, in "The Apartment" we look at Jerry's NYC rent-controlled building. If you want an apartment, you need someone to die, because no one moves from a rent-controlled place. Elaine is looking for a place and when Mrs. Hudwalker dies, she finds out about the opening from Jerry. She's the first one to get it, so it goes for $400 per month. But then the super realizes he can play around with the demand side of this situation. Yada, yada, yada, he is offered a $5,000 bribe and Elaine doesn't get the place.
Lessons? Price ceilings and rationing mechanisms.
Jerry talks about locations where no business can survive in the “Bermuda Triangle" and it can be used to discuss "free entry and exit" - "a term used by economists to describe a condition in which can sellers freely enter the market for an economic good by establishing production and beginning to sell the product. Along these same lines, free exit occurs when a firm can exit the market without limit when economic losses are being incurred."
The site offers some clips and the DVD information (season, disc and the times for the key scenes) for using them. A department could pick up the Seinfeld complete series on DVD or just the seasons needed.
I never smiled once when I took economics as an undergrad. This would have eased the pain and helped me stay awake.
These economics profs are not the first to consider another side of Jerry and friends.
I bought Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing when it came out. It's for those with or without any real philosophical background.
There are essays grouped into four acts.
Act One looks at the four Seinfeld characters through a philosophical lens - Jerry and Socrates: The Examined Life?
Act Two examines historical philosophers from a Seinfeldian standpoint (Plato or Nietzsche? Time, Essence, and Eternal Recurrence in Seinfeld).
Act Three is Untimely Meditations by the Water Cooler, which explores philosophical issues raised by the show - Is it rational for George to do the opposite?
Act Four is called Is There Anything Wrong with That? and has discussions of ethical problems of everyday situations.
Years earlier, I had read through a set of books that use the characters from the Winnie the Pooh series in a similar way. I read the Tao of Pooh and Te of Piglet and really enjoyed this other way of viewing the "children's books" I knew from years ago.
Then came from another perspective: Winnie-the-Pooh on Success and Winnie-the-Pooh on Management (subtitled: "In which a Very Important Bear and his friends are introduced to a Very Important Subject") and then Winnie-the-Pooh on Problem Solving.
I suppose with the holidays coming, these might make good gifts for that academic on your list - or for that non-academic to feel better about watching Seinfeld reruns and clutching their Pooh stuffed bear while reading on the couch.
But here are the new kids on the block.
I added Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts to my Amazon Wish List and I discovered there an entire popular culture and philosophy series that is available.
I used House as a way to teach critical thinking and problem solving, but it could easily be used to address ethical questions. (The book for HOUSE is subtitled " Everybody Lies").
And you know there had to be a Star Wars and Philosophy edition too.
I'm sure you have students you followed Breaking Bad and binge-watched entire seasons of this engrossing drama. The tale of the mild-mannered chemistry teacher with an an advanced cancer diagnosis who goes from trying to provide a nest egg for his family to becoming a feared drug lord and remorseless killer is full of lessons and questions on ethics, morality, justice, the drug trade and family. How about starting with asking why TV viewers remained loyal to a series where the hero becomes the villain? Does Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty actually play a role in the arc of the show's story, as suggested by the main character, and rule our destinies?
You can find ways to use Lord of the Rings (One Book to Rule Them All).
If you already teach Ender's Game, then using the frighteningly title "Genocide Is Child's Play." The book's blurb talks about discussing" "the violence and cruelty of children, the role of empathy in war, the balance of individual dignity and the social good, the justifiability of pre-emptive strikes, how Ender’s disconnected and dispassionate violence is mirrored in today’s drone warfare, whether the end of saving the species can justify the most brutal means, the justifiability of lies and deception in war, how military schools produce training in virtue, how Ender as the “good student” is held to a different educational standard, which rules can be broken in games and which cannot, Ender’s world as a mirror of our own surveillance society, the moral hazards of child warriors, the value of Ender’s ability to sympathize with his enemies, the meaning of a “hive-mind,” the limits of our ability to relate to one, the relationship between Ender’s story and Card’s Mormonism." You couldn't even fit all that in one course!
Did you have trouble understanding Philosophy 101 AND you were confused by the Matrix films too? Then The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real is perfect for you.
With Breaking Bad over, the current hot property is The Walking Dead which also has a book (The Walking Dead and Philosophy: Zombie Apocalypse Now).
It's even more interesting to me that Canvas Network has offered a MOOC about the series that examines some of those same issues. Does equality or fairness have any place in the post-apocalyptic world? Do theft, assault and murder become acceptable under desperate circumstances?
Consider using some popular culture in your syllabus because - well, for one thing it is popular. Having something that students are already interested in reading, watching and talking about is a great start to the serious discussion or writing to follow.
Monday, December 2. 2013
I was moderating a presentation by Darshan Desai and Rahul Bedi (Berkeley College) at the NJEDge.Net Conference a few weeks ago. There were a number of sessions on MOOCs at the conference. I ran a workshop with Mary Zedeck to help faculty or an institution decide whether "to MOOC or not to MOOC."
Friday, November 29. 2013
Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity which is one of the stars of private sector MOOC providers, has decided after 2+ years that the Massive Open Online Course is not going to disrupt higher education.
He hasn't really given up on the MOOC as much as he has given up on some of that open audience for them. A good part of his disillusionment seems to have come with his efforts to offer courses at San Jose State.
He had seen high enrollments (160,000) but low completion rates when he offered a MOOC at Stanford. But at San Jose State Udacity was offering the best product he had available and the incentive of credits and students were still not completing courses successfully.
The faculty at SJSU hadn't supported the appearance of the courses on campus and now their doubts seem more justified.
Part of the attention to Thrun's new take on the mission of the MOOC is that he seems to be saying that the MOOC learning experience is just not suited to the diverse students at varying levels of readiness that a college like SJSU.
Of course, we need to keep in mind that it didn't seem as bad when the completion rate was low for those early courses because it didn't really matter (grade and credit-wise) if they didn't finish the course or master all the parts of it. At San Jose State, it mattered.
In a long article on fastcompany.com, we learn that even with 1.6 million Udacity students so far, Thrun was obsessed with that discouraging completion rate. I have written before that I feel that we need to rethink how we define completion in the MOOC environment. My own experiences both in taking MOOCs as a student and in teaching them is that some learners are clearly there to gain knowledge about some of the course material, but without any intention to complete all of the course. And that is a valid reason to take a MOOC, as long as you're concerned about grades or credits. And we weren't as concerned with those things in the early - and much more Open - massive courses.
Has Thrun, the “godfather of free online education” given up on the MOOC? Not really. He says that those racially, economically diverse students at SJSU, “were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives…[for them] this medium is not a good fit.” He is giving up on students.
Okay, maybe that's not totally fair. He does admit that some of the Udacity courses are a "lousy product." But others are jumping on Thrun's "throwing in the towel" comment as the downward turning point for MOOCs. Jonathan Freedman, a professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, has an article that claims that MOOCs are becoming a “middlebrow” culture that references the Thrun interview comments. Freedman also has criticism for comments Bill gates has made about MOOC use supplanting traditional college coursework, but I am not convinced.
Thrun ran into Bill Gates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and Gates told him that “what you're doing is teaching to the 1% most motivated people on the planet. To sign up you have to be self-motivated. To stick with it you also have to be self-motivated. Those people, they can learn from anything. If you gave them a book, they would learn it equally well. So what exactly are you changing?"
That had to hurt. Maybe those words have stayed with him. Gates suggested that he redirect his focus on remedial math education. The Gates Foundation even provided funding for Udacity to offer its courses for free to inner-city high school kids. The success rate in those courses was not impressive, but it was considered a learning process for Udacity too.
What's the future for Udacity? Thrun says up next is “the biggest shift in the history of the company.” The goal is no longer to displace traditional higher education by delivering free elite-level online courses to millions of students worldwide. Now, it will be to move towards smaller, credit-bearing, priced courses that focus on technical and vocational skills.
I have thought since the beginning of the MOOC wave lifting that they would have a bigger impact with professional development and with technical fields. Our traditional classrooms and our traditional online courses will probably still be better for most academic disciplines. And those courses and school will still be the ones that grant degrees.
I agree with what Thrun is saying. Luckily for me, I don't have a company and venture capitalists relying on me to turn a profit.
Friday, November 22. 2013
Community college students face long odds of eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. And those odds get worse if they leave college more than once along the way.Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/11/15/students-are-unlikely-graduate-if-they-stop-out-more-once-study-finds
Monday, November 18. 2013
Your smartphone will be smarter than you by the year 2017. That is from an analysis from market research firm Gartner. It won't have much to do with hardware. It will come from the data and computational ability in the cloud. Phones will appear smarter than you - if you equate smarts with being able to recall information and make inferences. It was a part of a discussion of smart devices at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013, November 10-14 in Barcelona.
Friday, November 8. 2013
Peer to Peer University (P2PU) is a nonprofit online open learning community which allows users to organize and participate in courses and study groups to learn about specific topics. I have been working in P2PU since 2009 when it first offered courses - and before anyone was really using the term MOOC for an open, online course that allowed large numbers of people to participate for free.
Thursday, November 7. 2013
If you know Khan Academy as a website that offers free online video lectures about a variety of subjects, you only know the Khan Academy of a few years ago. It started as a one-man (Salman Khan) operation on a no-budget. Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, started it as the Academy in 2006 with a stated mission is to provide "a free world-class education for anyone anywhere."
They have delivered over 300 million "lessons" to the world, but most are in English and so is the website. But, like Wikipedia did in its early days, the Academy is crowdsourcing the translation of the site and lessons to its users and the world.
Recently, I saw that they were looking for more German translators who have already made progress toward building a Deutsch Khan Academy (now an Alpha Site). They have 17% of high priority content and 64% of high priority platform translated. November is their month for trnslating Khan Academy into Deutsch. Can you contribute to the Academy’s German site? Even translating a few sentences helps.
And there are many other languages being translated or on the list for the near future - see http://translate.khanacademy.org/
Wednesday, November 6. 2013
Stanford University was the starting place for the MOOC providers Coursera and Udacity and it brought a lot of attention to the school. But now, Stanford wants some of that MOOC attention focused on the university rather than on the startups that came out of the campus. In an article, "With Open Platform, Stanford Seeks to Reclaim MOOC Brand" in The Chronicle, we read that Stanford wants some of the attention that goes to those massive open online course providers.
As part of that effort, they are starting to use Open edX, the open-source platform developed by edX, which is the the nonprofit provider of MOOCs started by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in May 2012 and now has 29 contributing institutions.
edX was built to to host online university-level courses for a worldwide audience at no charge and also to conduct research into learning. There are currently 1.2 million users of edX and the two institutions have each contributed $30 million of resources to the nonprofit project. 1
edX's open source initiative is called Open edX and it allows developers to create their own next-generation online learning platform.
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