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? 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie post: What I've learned

I have nothing on my mind right now except writing (and have nothing new to say about that yet). And maybe you're as tired as I am of reading about leaning in and stepping up and taking charge and being a woman as ruthlessly efficient as this one:
Perhaps the most poignant detail from Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," was also one of the smallest: an overworked mother of three who "organized her time so ruthlessly that she always keyed in 1:11 or 2:22 or 3:33 on the microwave rather than 1:00, 2:00, or 3:00, because hitting the same number three times took less time."
 I'd call it nuts rather than poignant, but why focus on other people's stressed-out lives when you just might have a few stressors of your own? Jenny Allen's "What I've Learned" in The New Yorker (behind paywall, sorry) this week points out the much bigger bullets that you can dodge if you pay attention at the movies:
I am certainly not going back into the house where something bad or creepy has happened to me already.
I am never going to a carnival or a fair, particularly if there is happy calliope music playing. 
If I become an astronaut, am I leaving the spaceship under any circumstances? No, I am not--not to fix anything on the outside of the spaceship while tethered to it by one not-that-strong cord; not to explore the terrain of the planet we land on, a dusty place that looks like it has no life forms but surely will have, ones that do not wish me well. 
I am never going to remain sitting or standing next to anyone who is coughing innocently.  There are no innocent coughs, only ones that signal imminent pandemics.  
 So what do you learn if you go by the laws of old (rather than recent) movies?
If you are one of three young women in a movie, choose your friends very carefully. One of you will go to the bad to provide an object lesson for the others.  If you don't know who the bad girl is, it could be you.  
Do not believe the promises of handsome gangsters (Three on a Match) and especially not those of wealthy, Ivy-educated men (Our Blushing Brides, Where the Boys Are, The Best of Everything). They do not have marriage on their minds, and they do not wish you well. 
If you are an animal in a movie, beware, especially if you are a beloved and cuddly pet.  For plot purposes, your life is about as safe as if you live in Westeros. 
What have you learned from the movies?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Off topic: a mildly political question about media coverage

So the 2016 election is still 2 years away, yet every single article I see about Hillary Clinton has a negative tone, beginning with Time magazine's "Can anyone stop Hillary?" last summer.

The rhetorical move there is called "begging the question," mainstream media; it's a logical fallacy and assumes the answer to a question by avoiding it--as in "of course, someone should stop Hillary. Who's our best shot for doing so?"

Did the Koch brothers buy up Time and the rest of the news media and not tell anyone? Or do they figure that if they dangle enough shiny Kardashians in front of us, we won't notice? Or is it just part of the "tear down--resurrect--tear down again" cycle that they use with all celebrities?

I hear tell that Time used to be a news magazine, albeit one with a conservative bent. Remember the old saying "Life [a now-defunct picture magazine] is for people who can't read, and Time is for people who can't think"?

Yes, the MSM treats politics like a horse race, and yes, they correctly assume that the US public has the attention span of a gnat.  But if they want it to be an interesting race, why don't they talk about new policies or something substantive rather than dredging up Buzzfeed-worthy headlines about "5 Secrets about Hillary Clinton's White House Years"--which ended, lest we forget, nearly 15 years ago.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Comments on Wordpress blogs

I've been getting a message when I've tried to post to some Wordpress blogs: "Your comment cannot be posted" or something like that (on Historiann and Quod She), so I switched Gmail identities.  The new one isn't working, either, so apparently I am persona non grata at Wordpress. I'm not a spammer--honest!

So for now, I am reading, but I can't post comments. I'll keep working on it. My next identity will have the name Unwilling Lurker :).