Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Random bullets of It's Leap Year! Take a Leap!

  • Those of you who are Frasier fans may recognize in my title one of the all-time great episodes, "Look Before You Leap." I will not tell you one single thing about it lest I spoil something, but one phrase may suffice as the crowning glory of the episode: "Buttons and Bows."
  • It's a mercy to have one more day until March begins.
  • Another thing I'm doing differently in my old-school style classes is to assign some minor points to daily class activities, the way I used to do In Days Of Yore. You show up, do the activity, and get full points. The points are almost inconsequential, and one assignment can be dropped to account for illnesses, but . . . they add up.
  •  I just received my first paper (not in an in-person class) that seemed off--word-salad-y, generalizations, etc., almost as if--as if it hadn't been written by a person but by AI (confirmed by GPTZero, which I had never used before). Did I confront the student about it? Readers, I did not, because detection sites can be wrong. Instead, I took a very close, painstaking look at it and graded it rigorously as if it were a regular paper. 
  • In the comments to the previous post, xykademiqz mentioned that students seem done with things being done online and Julie said that they don't seem to want to attend, maybe in part because the lectures are online, which is demoralizing. I think you're both right. There's a sizable proportion of the class (maybe 1/5?) who don't seem to show up, though they seem agreeable enough when they do. My attempts at lecture capture for them in case they're ill have been kind of dismal, because I can't stand at the podium and just talk but must walk around and use the board. This makes for hilarious but unhelpful captions that are worse because somehow the Zoom screen share always captures something other than the PowerPoint or document camera. 
  • Are the rest of you being inundated with emails about How To Do Things with AI/GPT? "It can generate ideas! Write a first draft! Take your dog for a walk!" etc. The only thing that sounds more like the 7th circle of hell than grading AI papers would be grading AI papers knowing that your students had been told to use AI and then expend more of their labor making the first draft somehow better. I feel bad for them. They have ideas of their own, and that's what I want to see them working on.

     Anyway, happy Leap Day!

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Random bullets of mid-February

  •  Writing inspiration: This may not sound like much of a win, but I finally (finally!) finished the piece I've been moaning about here for lo these many months. I thought for a while I'd be like Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch, gathering sources for The Key to All Mythologies until I keeled over at my desk, but not so. That's done, but wait--what's that on the horizon in a couple of weeks? A conference paper for which I made all sorts of rash promises? 
  • At least having finished one thing means I can finish something else. I'd become--what's the writing word for gun-shy? write-shy?-- and this has restored my confidence.
  • Being in an accountability writing group and a sit-and-write group has helped a lot.
  • Teaching: I am loving teaching my old-school type classes this semester and the students seem to be doing all right with it, too. 
  • Maybe it's a post-Covid phenomenon, but it feels as though they have a hard time sitting still and not participating, and since participation is what we want anyway as teachers, I'm leaning into it. And really, how is their difficulty in sitting still any different from ours when we're trapped in a meeting where our betters are discussing obvious points, world without end?
  • Do any of you feel as though you have another part-time job just attending all the meetings, presentations, etc. that your colleagues have arranged? 
  • Have you ever been in a group project where if one person--call him Comrade X--is outvoted in a decision, he will bide his time and come back to it over and over and over again to try to bend everyone else to his will since he is always right? Asking for a friend.
  • There needs to be space in the middle of all this for imagination, but that space is in short supply right now.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic: facts and logic? Who needs 'em?

 Just when I thought it was safe to re-subscribe to The Atlantic,  our friend Caitlin Flanagan is at it again, opining that colleges aren't teaching students to think, or driving a car, or something (the metaphors get confused). 

Let's examine the logic, shall we?

1. "A teacher should never do your thinking for you."

Straw man fallacy. Who the heck ever said that they did or would?

2. "When you’re visiting a college, walk through the corridors of some of the humanities departments. Look at the posters advertising upcoming events and speakers, read the course listings, or just stand silent in front of the semiotic overload of the instructors’ office doors, where wild declarations of what they think and what they plan to make you think will be valorously displayed.

Does this look like a department that is going to teach you how to think?"

Soooo much to unpack here.

  • "semiotic overload of instructors' office doors": if you mean some weak sauce attempt at humor that struck me funny in The New Yorker, guilty as charged. Otherwise, here's a thought: Flanagan hasn't been on a campus in years, let alone walking down the halls of a humanities department. This is some Fox News/Hannity-inspired fever dream.
  • "wild declarations of what they think": Unless I've posted office hours as "Step right inside, folks, and hear the crazy feminist declaim on M WF 10-11," I don't think this is true, to put it mildly.
  • "valorously displayed": Does 3M make a valorous brand of Scotch tape specially to hold wild declarations on office doors? Otherwise, no. 
  • Logic leap: faulty evidence. From a few pathetic faculty posters, you're inferring how those therein "teach you to think," which you've already declared is impossible?
3. "The truth of the matter is that no one can teach you how to think; but what they can do is teach you how to think for yourself."

You don't say.  Is it also possible that water is wet and that human beings breathe air?
Mind. Blown.

4. "To the extent that I have learned how to think for myself, it’s because my father taught me. Usually by asking me a single question."

It's a nice anecdote, but there's more than a trace of the ubi sunt lament usually found in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere: why are there no professors like my dad?

This is an example of begging the question: that is, to assume prior agreement on a point that's very much not in evidence. ARE there no professors like her dad? 

Also, the ubi sunt part: 

When I was at beautiful Ivy or Oxbridge back in the olden days, I had an extremely famous professor (this time: Frank Kermode) who inspired me with the timeless truths of the humanities curriculum. 
Alas, there were few such professors then, and there are none today. That pesky GI bill opened education to the masses, and now students want grades instead of reading literature for timeless truths. Literature has been sullied by the grade-grubbing paws of these students. Where is the pure love of literature of yesteryear?  

5. And finally: "Many college professors don’t want to do that today. "

This has the former guy's fingerprints all over it: "many people think that drinking unicorn saliva will cure COVID"; "many fine people on both sides." 

Where is the evidence? 

I know I've made fun of The Atlantic before, but honestly: Atlantic, do better.