The Science of the Obvious

Are your lectures droning on? Change it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques and more students will succeed, researchers say. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.

“Universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050 and lecturing has been the predominant form of teaching ever since,” says biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. But many scholars have challenged the “sage on a stage” approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, arguing that engaging students with questions or group activities is more effective.

Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds,” Aleszu Bajak

We know what works and what does not work in education. We know standardized tests don’t work. We know that lectures don’t work well. We know that we need small classes and well paid full-time teachers. Our problem isn’t knowledge, it’s money. It won’t be research that solves these problems.

A Nut’s A Nut

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.

“Wide Impact of Climate Change Already Seen in U.S., Study Says,” Justin Gills

On Sunday, Germany’s impressive streak of renewable energy milestones continued, with renewable energy generation surging to a record portion — nearly 75 percent — of the country’s overall electricity demand by midday. With wind and solar in particular filling such a huge portion of the country’s power demand, electricity prices actually dipped into the negative for much of the afternoon, according to Renewables International.

In the first quarter of 2014, renewable energy sources met a record 27 percent of the country’s electricity demand, thanks to additional installations and favorable weather. “Renewable generators produced 40.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, up from 35.7 billion kilowatt-hours in the same period last year,” Bloomberg reported. Much of the country’s renewable energy growth has occurred in the past decade and, as a point of comparison, Germany’s 27 percent is double the approximately 13 percent of U.S. electricity supply powered by renewables as of November 2013.

Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent Of Power Needs From Renewable Energy,” Kiley Kroh

Here’s is what I am afraid is going to be the new normal. On the one hand, we watch the weather shift and change in dramatic ways, and the evidence for climate change’s impact on our current climate will continue to grow. On the other hand what can only be called right wing nuts, like Senator Rubio, will continue to claim that the facts are not facts. The emperor, they will say, is fully clothed. I think it is important that we stop saying that this is cynicism, or that it is courting the right, and start calling this behavior for what it is, no matter what its ultimate origins or purpose might be. Its’s nuts. (Idaho just set the bar to a new low.)

People who say that climate change isn’t real are denying facts and people who deny facts– especially facts concerning real immediate danger–are not qualified for public office. Simple. If someone declared that that bullets bounced off their chest, we wouldn’t give them a second thought if they wanted to run for President. Once it becomes normal to disqualify the counter-factual gang then we might be able to follow Germany’s example (perhaps in labor law as well) and start dealing shutting down the fossil fuel industry before it shuts us down. If the German example shows us anything it is that real change is possible.

Class Games

In January, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released a report on young children’s media diets. The survey of more than 1,500 parents of children ages 2-10 asked a bevy of questions about educational media use. Much of the ensuing news coverage focused on the sheer volume of media use, and how little of it overall parents deemed helpful, especially when it came to science and math content.

But I found something else to be more interesting: the study shows a serious class divide on educational media use. That made me wonder, could it be that high-income parents are letting their presumptions about “screens” cloud their judgment?

If we can get beyond the false assumptions, parents might be able to demand more, and better, educational media. Right now for media developers, the incentives are elsewhere, Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games and professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, told Games Industry International.

“Report Finds Class Divide in Educational Media Use,” Barbara Ray

I had a great economic professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in the 1980’s, named Harry Cleaver. Dr. Cleaver was a Marxist economist who had somehow survived the conservative purges of the 1970’s. Dr. Cleaver saw the impact of class and the class struggle everywhere he looked. Once you see the way class shapes American culture and the world, you can never un-see it.

Yet academic researchers in particular seem perpetually surprised by the pervasive impact of class, as if they suddenly realized that capitalism is a class-based system. Why wouldn’t class shape media use? It shapes everything else. I suspect that this surprise goes back to the fact that academic economics has been so conservative for so long. If no one points it out, you don’t see it.

Wiki Academia

The study provides some interesting findings regarding academics’ view of the benefits of Wikipedia-style peer review and publishing. Most respondents (77 percent) reported reading Wikipedia, and a rather high number (43 percent) reported having made at least one edit, with 15 percent having written an article. Interestingly, as many as four respondents stated that they were “credited for time spent reviewing Wikipedia articles related to their academic careers” in their professional workplaces. The more experience one had with Wikipedia, the more likely one would see advantages in the wiki publishing model. Most common advantages listed were cost reductions (40 percent), timely review (19 percent), post-publication corrections (52 percent), making articles available before validation (27 percent) and reaching a wider audience (8 percent). Disadvantages included questionable stability (86 percent), absence of integration with libraries and scholarly search engines (55 percent), lower quality (43 percent), less credibility (57 percent), less academic acceptance (78 percent) and less impact on academia (56 percent).

Survey of academics’ view on Wikipedia and open-access publishing,” Wikimedia Research Newsletter, Vol: 4 • Issue: 4 • April 2014

I’ve always thought that the only way for Wikipedia to build its credibility is for it to become a part of academic writing and research. I don’t think encyclopedias will ever replace peer-reviewed articles, but Wikipedia can only benefit if academic scholars are involved in the writing, reviewing and editing of articles. I wouldn’t want Wikipedia to be swallowed by academia; everyone should be able to contribute. I tell the teachers that I teach that the best way to understand Wikipedia, and develop a policy on it, is to participate.

Too many academics are suspicious, even openly hostile about the online encyclopedia. One professor I knew used to plant false information in Wikipedia and then ask students to research this information for homework. When they came back to class with his answer, he’d scold them for using Wikipedia. This is a professor, by the way, who sailed through tenure, despite his very open– even proud– advocacy of dishonesty towards students. The good news is that I don’t think his nasty little lesson would work anymore.

A New Review of “A Taste for Language”

A growing number of composition theorists (Hooks; Peckham) have noted the relative lack of discussion of social class in our field. James Ray Watkins Jr.’s A Taste for Language: Literacy, Class, and English Studies provides a theory of “middle class” language production for post-WWII education and reformulates a responsible cultural capital in the 21st century world outside the university. Watkins provides a multigenerational family autobiography to construct a revisionist history of composition studies that supports the proposed 21st century forms of cultural capital. To his credit, Watkins also provides a pedagogy to achieve this new cultural capital, although his “writing in the wild” pedagogy may not be as groundbreaking as a theory pressing for new cultural capital would demand. That said, A Taste for Language is a welcome addition to the discussions of social class in composition and the future of English and composition studies.

Book Review: Watkins’ A Taste for Language,” Liberty Kohn, 2014

It’s a nice review, positive but not fawning or anything, and I think his criticisms make a certain amount of sense. It’s worth reading in full.