Thursday, April 24, 2014

Back to the future: Two-speed Internet

The New York Times reports that the F.C.C., which I am starting to think is run by Clay Davis, Evan Burrell, and William Rawls of The Wire, wants to let big bucks rule the internet even more than is currently the practice.

Content providers can pay for fast speeds.

And all those web sites for universities, digital projects put up with grant funds and a lot of sweat equity, and other knowledge-content sites that are there because someone believed in them? They can wait--or, rather, you can sit there and watch them load with 14.4-baud dial-up modem-like speed.  Remember those speeds?

It'll probably be like hotel wifi.  You know when you're in the conference hotel and you use the basic-level wifi? Sometimes the basic costs $9.95 to 15.95 a day, but it's still nothing to brag about.

You sit and wait for sites to load, until they time out.

Sometimes you watch a site that loads as if a content curtain is being slowly lowered, like some kind of information strip-tease, before a pop-up emerges on the screen and kills what little information you've been able to gather.

You watch the signal drop and reconnect.

You hope that the one button of wifi that the indicator is showing you will allow the email you're trying to send will get through.

Surprise! The wifi drops and times out before that happens. 

From the article:
The F.C.C. proposal claims to protect competition by requiring that any deal between a broadband company and a content provider be “commercially reasonable.”
But then the F.C.C. thinks that a Comcast   cable and internet provider monopoly is "commercially reasonable," so I'm not holding my breath. The U.S. already has slower internet than, say, Latvia because it's "too expensive" for the big companies to upgrade, or so they tell us.

I hope the F. C.C. comes to its senses.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

At The Atlantic: The Confidence Gap

At The Atlantic, Kattie Kay and Claire Shipman explore "The Confidence Gap." In study after study, the same gender difference appears: Women are less confident about their answers, want to be absolutely sure of an outcome before they apply for a job, and don't want to risk rejection in the workplace or being thought a fool if they get something wrong.

And men?  This says it all, really:
“I think that’s really interesting,” Brescoll said with a laugh, “because the men go into everything just assuming that they’re awesome and thinking, who wouldn't want me?" . . . Ernesto Reuben, a professor at Columbia Business School, has come up with a term for this phenomenon: honest overconfidence. In a study he published in 2011, men consistently rated their performance on a set of math problems to be about 30 percent better than it was. 
I'm thinking about how this plays out in the academic world.
  • We've all talked about how women take on too much service, and it's well known that women take longer to get from associate to full professor than men do.  From the article (though not about academia): "Women applied for a promotion only when they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50 percent."
  • In some cases this "dot every i, cross every t" syndrome make be justified, since women may be implicitly held to higher standards.
  • Is the service component  a place where it's possible to achieve some kind of perfection, whereas having enough publications is a constantly moving target?  I'm speculating, but couldn't that be true?
  • Are we socializing our students in these gendered ways? When we're preparing them for an interview (a job interview, a med school interview), do we encourage men and women equally to be direct, to challenge an interviewer if needed, and to speak up?
  • Does this apply to classes, too? Are the students who speak out with confidence even if they're wrong male and the hesitant ones female?  I haven't seen that in my classes, but I wonder if more study would show this.
  • There's such a premium on being smart in academia, where the highest accolade is "That was a really smart talk" or "She wrote a really smart book." Does this mean that women are more afraid of being thought a fool than men are?
  • How does this confidence gap intersect with those who were bullied as children, especially those who were bullied because they were intelligent or bookish? For example, what if you kept your mouth shut when you knew answers in class because you knew that you would be bullied and made miserable by a gang of girls once recess rolled around? That seems less like a lack of confidence than an urgent desire not to be picked on.
I had always attributed this confidence gap to family socialization, not so much a gendered thing but a family thing.  In my family, any offhand remark that you might like to do anything mildly aspirational (like travel or do something besides teach high school), or any stupid statement, meant that relatives teased you mercilessly about it for years. In Spouse's family, the wildest of plans were conveniently forgotten if they failed or if the person changed his mind, as if the whole former plan were swept down the memory hole.  This meant that they could, in Steve Jobs's words, fail early and often, and since no one ever brought it up again, you could try and fail without hearing about it endlessly.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The name is MOC, not MOOC, and we're charging for them. What? You got a problem with that?

So the world turns on its axis, and, like clockwork, the "monetization plan" that various critics have wondered about reveals itself. 

Inside Higher Ed reports that Udacity has decided to change its business model:
Beginning next month, the massive open online course provider Udacity will cut the first O from the acronym and only offer MOCs. Founder Sebastian Thrun, whose "pivot" last year shifted the company's focus to corporate training, in a blog post announced Udacity will stop issuing free course completion certificates on May 16.
To be fair, they're only charging for the certificate.  If you want to do the course and then manage to convince a hiring manager somewhere that you actually know this stuff for free without the certificate, well, good on ya, as the Aussies say.

So, from free, open-access, and change-the-world elite education for the masses to a fee-based certificate and a corporate training model in 3 years?  Now that's a speedy adaptation to market forces.

It's really kind of reassuring that MOOCs have found their feet and that those feet don't have to stomp all over higher education, at least at present.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Off-topic: Farewell to the Land of No Internets

Can you write an elegy for a place?

Longtime readers, if there are any, might recall that over the course of a few summers I wrote about going to a place I called the "Land of No Internets." Those of you who read writing as jo(e)'s blog have an idea of the kind of family place it was. It was a place without a lot of modern conveniences, but it was on the water, and old, and beautiful.

The house had wide-planked floors, and poles made of whole trees for supports under them, and mildly wavy glass in some of the windows. It had woods and rocks and space all around. It had deer, and birds, and more stars when night fell than I had ever seen before because there was no light from anything around. It had quiet.

But as happens, maybe inevitably, with shared family places, when some of the family want to sell, the place gets sold.

When it dawned on me that the end of the semester was coming in a couple of weeks and summer was coming in a couple of months, I thought about the place.

Maybe, like Thoreau, I can content myself with ownership of the eye of the beholder, or in this case of the eye of memory. But I can't go there any more.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lit, rhet/comp: can't we all please get along?

Marc Bosquet's grandly titled "The Moral Panic in Literary Studies" at the Chronicle raises the specter of "senior members" of English Departments who still can't see the value of rhetoric and composition. Shorter Bosquet: those departments will be on their way to extinction, because they're basically demonizing the future of the discipline.
In the past year or two, in meetings with English graduate faculty members and students at would-be top programs similar to ours, I’ve had innumerable conversations with otherwise rational but anxious people who consider those involved in the renaissance of comp-rhet or digital publication as dullards not good enough to read poetry, as lowbrow opportunists, or—worse—as saintly philanthropists who "should be appreciated for their love of teaching first-year writing."
 Say what? I have heard about these mythical creatures--let's call them the harrumphing literary old duffer--for twenty years, and, while I don't doubt they exist, I've never seen one.  This may be a testament to my general cluelessness (likely) and to the collegial quality of the departments I've been fortunate enough to be associated with (very likely), which have valued both sides of the Great Divide. 

You can't teach several dozen writing courses over the years and not value the contributions that rhet/comp has made. On the other hand, there's value in literary studies, too. 

Can you talk about literature without talking about rhetorical principles? Don't the two complement each other?

Aren't the humanities in enough trouble without picking a fight about who gets the remaining deck chairs?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Brain change: can we still read long-form writing?

From WaPo, some research confirming what a lot of us have observed in our students and maybe ourselves.  Skimming and websurfing is changing the neural pathways of the way we read:
To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe’s experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia. 
 “I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.” 
“They cannot read ‘Middlemarch.’ They cannot read William James or Henry James,” Wolf said. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of dealing with the convoluted syntax and construction of George Eliot and Henry James.”
Henry James is kind of a special case--there are sentences where you want to say, "Please, Henry, throw me a verb. Any verb will do"--but there's truth to this. I've noticed it in classes. Students can identify skimmable main points, but they don't have a sense of what individual parts mean. I've tried to counter this by slowing down the reading process, not by giving them less work (since, as rational beings, they would likely skim that, too), but by spending more time looking at passages and words.

I wonder, too, whether the popularity of graphic novels and comics has something to do with shifting reading patterns.  Those can be complex visually, but the way the information is presented doesn't train the brain to slow down and do long-form reading.

A lot of people complain that students don't read anymore, but this suggests it's not due to laziness but to brain issues.

And like the people in the article, I've noticed that my natural reading patterns have changed, so much so that I've shut off some social media for now and read books in the morning rather than news, to try to retrain them.

Have you seen this, too?