Tuesday, August 20, 2013

For new students at Random University

I'm often asked what I do for a living.  I reply that I teach the very young, college freshmen; it's kindergarten with beer.  Well, it's that time of year again, when the local universities and colleges drag the professors away from their summer-time relaxation -- okay, so not everyone thinks doing research is relaxing, but then again, they're not professors -- to instruct yet another crop of fresh faced 18-year-olds.

Recently, on LinkedIn, the person in charge of alumni relations asked the past graduates -- yes, La Professora also attended the university where she is now torturing students -- to give future graduates some advice.  Here was mine:

Never try to cram for more than 20 minutes at a time-- that's as much short term memory the average human has.  Once you hit 20 minutes, get up, stretch, get a snack, do something else for 5 minutes so that your brain can shift the information from short term to long term memory.  Then it's back to the books for another 20 minutes.

Don't use highlighters on your text books, that just changes the color of the page and you'll end up reading the whole thing again before an exam.  Use the margin to write a quick note on the key points of the paragraph.  If you do that, you're more likely to remember the information when reviewing for an exam.

Always get to know your professor -- you'll need letters of recommendation some day and you really don't want one from someone who doesn't really know you.

If you're a transfer student, use Assist.org to know what transferred for which requirement.  The best way to get Admissions and Records to process your transcripts is to apply for graduation, so do that as soon as you've hit 90 units.

Advising can come from your major department, but be sure to ask fellow students which instructor provides the best advising. 

Always get information in writing, especially from the administration.  If someone in A&R or Counseling says X, politely ask them if they could write that down so that you'll be able to remember later that you're to do X.  That way if anyone asks, who told you to do X, you're to do Y, you can whip out your written instructions.  It then becomes their problem, not yours.

Don't pick a major just because someone or some magazine says that's the wave of the future.  No one knows what career will be hot in 10 years, but everyone knows that if you do what makes you happiest, you'll find a way to make money at it.  By the by, studies have shown that so much emphasis on the STEM majors has created a glut of STEM graduates, and those high demand jobs are no longer out there at the levels that had been predicted 10 years ago. 

No one "can't do Math".  Studies on the learning of math skills have found that it depends more on who the instructor is/was than the student.  If you had a crummy instructor in elementary school math, chances are that you think you "can't do Math".  Everyone can, you just need to find an instructor who can teach it -- again, ask fellow students whom they'd recommend, but avoid any instructor who is labelled "easy". 

"Easy" instructors might be good for your GPA in the short term, but if you need the information for other courses, you'll just be hurting your ability to pass courses in the longer run.  On the same lines, don't be afraid of taking courses with instructors whom your fellow students have labelled "Hard, but you'll learn a lot".  In the end, your GPA only counts if you're planning on going to graduate school -- I've never had an employer ask what my GPA in college was, but they did ask for proof that I could do the job well.

Learn to write well.  Use the resources on campus to help you learn how to write well.  This goes for the students in Business and Engineering just as much as the ones in the Humanities.  You might have instructors who only care that you put the correct words / concepts in your essays without regard to grammar or syntax, but in the end, your employability will be enhanced if you can write in a way that makes the words / concepts flow in a comprehensible way.

Enjoy your time at the university -- never again will you have an opportunity to truly explore your interests.  Join clubs, go bowling in the Student Union, meet random people in the cafeteria, take classes that are so completely different from what you're majoring in -- you never know what might lead to that divine spark that changes your perspective / major / life.

Take 2 units of P.E..  Too many students find that they haven't officially gotten their degree after graduation because they didn't take P.E..

Get at least one Study Buddy per course -- they will save your butt at some point.

That was it -- mostly because of the character limit -- but that was plenty.

As for "kindergarten with beer", trust me, the university really is:  First time away from Mommy; not entirely sure how the whole school thing works; would rather have naptime and snacktime than reading; and very little actual studying gets done.  I'm sure that if you really thought about it, you'll find further analogies.

Now I must finish up the syllabi, and prepare the instruments of student torture.  Bwaaaaahahahaa!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Randomly Commencing

Well, it's that time of the year again -- finals, grades, commencement.  While I've gotten the usual amount of post-grade whining, I've also gotten to see another batch of students graduate and head out to their future endeavors.

Our university isn't the type to attract the really big names, the JK Rowling and the Steve Jobs of the world, for its graduations and convocations but it has its share of ambassadors, politicians and entrepreneurs.  The department has had local and state leaders, and some have been actually good speakers.

Like my colleagues, I've always enjoyed the department convocations that featured the students by giving each 30 seconds to thank whomever helped them through their years at the university.  Once in a while, the student committee in charge of organizing convocation chooses a speaker instead.  Some speakers have been good, some have been lackluster, and one or two have been rude.

This year's PoliSci graduates had a speaker, a good one, who spoke to them and their families, rather than the usual "I'm so great, that's why you invited me to speak, and if you're as lucky or well-connected as I am, you too will be so great."  In the decades that I've been involved in academia, I've heard all sorts of keynote, convocation and commencement speeches -- even given one or two myself -- so I should know what makes for a good speech.

What makes for a good commencement speech is straightforward, and the list of Dos and Don'ts is simple.

Don't talk about yourself.  That's already been done by the person who introduced you.  Face it, the event isn't about you, and years from now most won't remember who spoke.  The only reason I remember that the ambassador to India spoke at my undergraduate graduation is my friend Jaime stood up and heckled the guy.  You'll note that I didn't state the name of the ambassador, and that's because I don't remember who he was.  I did remember Jaime because graduation is about family and friends -- not the speaker.

Do make it relevant.  So you're a famous police procedurals mystery writer giving a convocation speech to students who have just completed four or five years of Criminal Justice courses, that doesn't mean you should talk about the writing process, or how you once in their shoes -- see above advice.  You should talk about how they will use the skills and knowledge in their future pursuits.  Just avoid the "You will go out and change the world" platitudes; go instead for the "Small acts have an impact" type of theme.

Don't wing it.  Yes, there are some really good speakers out there who seem to speak extemporaneously, but they are really, really good at what they do, and they never actually show up unprepared.  Even the best of them usually have a small note card with the main points written down.  This year's PoliSci convocation speaker told me that he had written down three words to remind himself of what he wanted to cover.

Do stick to three main points.  This true for both spoken and written work.  This bit of advice I got from a professor when I was in graduate school.  Seems anything less than that provides too little information, and anything more than that would bore the audience silly.  You want what you have to say to be memorable, but not for being boring.

Don't go over the time allotted.  You've been given 10 or 20 minutes, and going over by a minute or two can be forgiven, but anything more than makes you a pompous ass.  Yes, graduations involve pomp and circumstance, but it's the students' day, not yours.  In all likelihood, the parents have made dinner reservations and will be looking at the program to figure out how much longer before the family can celebrate their kid's achievement with food and presents.  Your speech should not interfere with their plans.

Do feel free to give a reality check, but do it in a way that doesn't belittle the audience, but with light humor or profound imagery.  My favorites are David McCullough's "You Are Not Special" commencement speech and David Foster Wallance's 2005 commencement speech, called "This Is Water":

In the end, it's not the speech that matters.  Nor is it the degree that the graduates may or may not have earned.  It's about what they do with what they've heard both in and out of the classroom.  I tell my students that elementary, junior and high schools made them good citizens, that it's my job to make them thinking voters, but in the end it's up to them to be thoughtful.  We must all remember that we are not special, that it's not about us as individuals but about us as society, and that reality, even the banal kind, is about making conscious choices.

You may now commence with your summer vacation, and remember to enjoy the water and to wear sunscreen.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Adding Codes Randomly

The wonders of modern communications have only grown since the last time La Professora addressed the issue of contacting professors, back in 2007, but student etiquette hasn't improved with them. 

The Spring semester began at the end of January and the economic situation being what it is, courses in public colleges and universities are hard to come by; so students are scrambling to find courses to full out their schedule.  Thus the email have come flying, plentiful and fast.  In the last week alone, I've received enough requests for add codes to fill a whole new course section.

The emails fall into a number of categories.

The first category is of emails sent by students who have spammed all the professors in hopes that one or two will respond with a, "Yeah, there's room in the course, here's an add code", at which point the student decides whether or not the course is interesting enough to be worth enrolling.  To those, I say come to class, see if it's a good fit, and then ask for an add code afterward.  Amazing how many students who "must have" the course never show up.

The second category involves the students who think lying to the instructor will get them what they want.  "I'm graduating this semester, and this is the only class I can take that will complete the ______ requirement."  What the students don't get is all that is verifiable. Yes, when the course is full I will give an add code to a student who's in that situation, but only if the student truly is in that situation.

The third category is made up of emails begging for an add code within 24 hours of the deadline to add.  I sometimes wonder about those students.  In all probability, if they're waiting until the last minute to add the course, they probably will be asking for last minute extensions on their term papers. I'm not saying that in college I did all my essays weeks in advance, but I did know that waiting to the last few hours does nothing for the quality of the work and asking for an extension at the point better come with a darn good reason why.

The fourth category irritates simply because the students assume they are the only one searching for open courses.  This involves variations on "The computer system shows that there's a spot open in your course and I want to take it."  I'm sorry but that slot was taken by the student who came by my office to ask in person for the add code and that student hasn't had a chance to use it yet.  Again, see my rant on why asking in person is better than on the phone or via email.

The fifth category is one that deserves its own hall of shame: the email that just asks for an add code without giving any pertinent information.  The following is the worst example I've seen in ages, in that it falls into the third, fourth and fifth categories:
"Hello, this is (name removed to protect the foolish), it shows that u have open space but was not able to register. can i please get add code? Thank You"
As I teach at both the college and the university in town, and multiple courses at one of them, I have no idea what course add code I should give this person.  Perhaps one for the Counseling office's Time Management course.

Don't even get me started on the text 'speak'.  Last week I had a student ask if she could drop off her homework at "UR" office.  No, I emailed back, as I don't know where the "UR" office is, I'd rather she turn it in to my office.  Of course, I'd really prefer that she show up to class and turn it in then, but I can't have everything.

The point of all this is quite simple:  before you email your professors, make sure that your email (a) does not fall into one of the above categories and (b) is actually intelligible in the proper, grammatically correct English sense.  Consider this a vicarious learning experience; after all, that is what college is supposed to offer.
Image Source: http://lifehacker.com/5930614/one-simple-trick-to-reduce-email-overload-for-everyone

Friday, February 03, 2012

Preaching to the Randomness

Recently, I was asked to fill in on a Sunday that our minister had off -- even ministers get to sleep in on a Sunday now and then. I have since been asked by several members to send them a copy of the sermon. A better idea, thought I, would be to post it here, with the various bits that help make some of the sermon coherent, as it references a portion of the other bits. Keep in mind, if you were there that Sunday, the sermon here is not exactly as given -- I teach for a living and sometimes I ad-lib to highlight a point, or to throw in a bit of humor, to help students grasp what I'm saying.

Thus you have, "Every Little Bit Counts", given January 29, 2012:

Opening Words:
The UU church I grew up in would start each Sunday Service with the reciting of the Covenant. I'd like to share that with you. (#471 in the Hymnal -- Typical for UUs, the reference to God at the end was dropped):

Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest of truth is its sacrament and service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve humanity in fellowship, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the divine,
this do we covenant with one another.

Children's story:
The Native Americans believed that before there was man on the earth, there was just the animals. The Great Spirit had given the animals rules to live by, but after a while they stopped following the rules. The Great Spirit, to punish the animals, took away the sunlight by drawing a veil over the earth.

The animals had a great council to discuss the problem. It was decided to send the strongest, the fiercest of them to talk to the Great Spirit, to apologize in order to get the sunlight back.

The animals turned to the Grizzly Bear, but he said that he was sleepy and was going to take a nap. They turned to the Wolf, but Wolf said she had a hunt to organize. They turned to the Coyote, who was the cleverest of them, but Coyote said, "I kinda like the dark". Next came the Owl, but Owl was happy being able to hunt in the dark. The Eagle was too busy getting ready for his own hunt. Down the list of animals the council went, but each animal didn't want to make the effort. All but the Hummingbird. "You're too small," said the animals, "the Great Spirit would never listen to you."

So the Hummingbird decided to make an effort anyway. So she flew into the heavens, having just enough energy to poke her beak through the veil before falling back to the earth. Over and over the Hummingbird did this. Thousands upon thousands of times she tried to break through the veil to speak with the Great Spirit. Finally, the Great Spirit noticed that there were a bunch of holes in the veil between the earth and sunlight, and a tiny beak poking through over and over.

The Great Spirit pulled back the veil, and scooped up the Hummingbird. "Little Hummingbird, what are you doing?"

"I am trying to break through the veil to see you, to tell you that the animals are sorry for breaking the rules. Please give us back the sunlight."

The Great Spirit saw the tremendous effort the little Hummingbird had made, and decided to give back the sunlight. To remind the animals of that effort, and to not break the rules again, the Great Spirit pulls that veil back over the earth every night, and we can see the holes the Hummingbird made -- they're the pinpoints of light in the night sky.

As a professor, I'm used to speaking to a crowd, I'm just not used to the crowd being really interested in what I have to say. I usually start with a review from last time, but as this is my first time, I'll start with a joke.

A wild fire raged into a town, and embers set the roofs of three houses of worship alight. The religious leaders begged the fire chief to allow them in to retrieve their most sacred items. Granted only a few minutes, each rushed into the burning buildings. The priest grabbed the golden crucifix off the altar; the rabbi grabbed the torah; and the UU minister grabbed .... the coffee pot.

While funny, this joke points to the heart of UUism: Community. We gather in a community to share our joys and sorrows, to feel bound together in something greater than ourselves. Coffee hour is but one way we express this communion.

And yet....

Coffee hour is the reason why I'm giving this sermon. The volunteer coordinator for a previous month was bemoaning the difficulty in getting people to volunteer to make the coffee, to bring the snacks, and to clean up afterward. I pointed out that, like any community with more than 2 people, we suffer from what Political Scientists and Economists call a Free Rider problem and the result is the Tragedy of the Commons.

When I explained what these concepts were, I found myself "volunteered" to give today's sermon.

The Free Rider problem occurs when a person derives what Economists call a "positive externality" from the actions of another person. That positive externality is a benefit from the action to which the first person did not contribute. The problem lies in that it is impossible to exclude those who do not contribute from some common good or action.

National defense is the classic example of a public good with a free rider problem. Everyone benefits from national defense, whether or not (s)he pays taxes.

Aristotle noted that "what is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it"

Thus the free rider problem creates a paradox: If there is no incentive to contribute, there is diminished incentive for others to provide the benefit. It is for this reason that valued public goods are often undersupplied. The logic of collective action then results in a "Let Mikey do it" mentality, in which Mikey represents everybody else in the world.

We all want the maximum good possible, but cannot agree what is good, nor how to go about supplying it. Adam Smith, in Wealth of Nations (1776) discussed the idea of allowing each individual to pursue the good he values most. In his analysis, Smith seems to promote the idea that as each seeks the most personal gain, that person is “led by an invisible hand to promote … the public interest.” The assumption was that each would be driven by rational analysis to reach a decision that would simultaneously benefit the individual and society.

Garrett Hardin, a former professor of Human Ecology at UCSB, wrote on this idea, calling it the Tragedy of the Commons.

Imagine, says Hardin, a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will want to have as large a herd as possible on that pasture, trying to maximize his gain. The rational herdsman reaches the same conclusion as all the others sharing the common pasture: a larger herd is good. Thus, the pasture is then ruined by overgrazing.

A satellite photo in 1974 gave proof to this. Areas of northern Africa showed that land that had been held in common had been overused, and thus devastated. Only in the privately held areas was the land still fertile – there the owners had incentive to protect the productivity of the land.

In Federalist #51, James Madison wrote that “If men were angels, no Government would be necessary.” The reality is that humans are not angelic, and thus each human is guided by self-interest when it comes to the common good, even when individual benefits are the result of societal suffering.

Some have argued that there are solutions to this problem. Theorists believe that education can counteract human’s natural tendency to do the “wrong” thing. As an instructor, I can tell you that education must be re-enforced constantly. As children we were taught to share, but as adults we must be reminded.

The size of the society has an effect on cooperative behavior. A look at the Hutterite religious community demonstrated that an unmanaged commons became more harmed the larger the community became. A study done of this community showed that when the community’s size approached 150, the individual members began to undercontribute abilities and to overestimate needs.

The researchers investigating found that when the community was below 150 members, distribution of benefits was regulated by the use of shaming those who did not engage in a balance of abilities and needs. It is when the group becomes too large, the fear of what others would think no longer works to regulate the behavior of the community.

In the modern, secular society in which we live, there are more than 150 of us. The problem becomes one of the Bystander Effect. This refers to the phenomenon in which the larger the number of people present, the less likely individuals will get involved. Researchers have repeatedly found that people are more likely to get involved in an emergency situation if there are few or no witnesses.

Bibb Latane and John Darley did a series of now classic experiments exploring this phenomenon. In one experiment, college students were sat in a cubicle from which they could hear what they thought were real people. At one point, one of the voices calls out for help and is heard choking. If the students thought they were the only other one there, 85% of the time they rushed to help the “choker”. When they thought there was at least one other person among the cubicles who could help the choker, the response rate dropped to 65%. When they thought there were at least four other people, the rate plummeted to 31%.

In another experiment, participants were sent to a room to fill out a questionnaire. The room then began to fill with smoke. If the participants were alone in the room, they were likely to report the smoke 75% of the time. To test the bystander effect, Latane and Darley placed in the room two confederates who would note the smoke and then ignore it. In those cases, the participant would report the smoke only 10% of the time.

Theorists have come up with two possible explanations for the bystander effect.

First, the presence of others creates the belief in the diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel the need to take action – the responsibility to take action is shared by all present; there is the “Let Mikey take care of it” mentality. The larger the group, the more the responsibility is diffused.

Second, humans have a need to behave in what is perceived to be the correct and socially accepted manner. We are herd animals and thus do not wish to be seen as being “not herd”. When others fail to act, individuals see this as a social signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate.

Psychologists, addressing these ideas, posit that the solution then is to ask people directly, by name, to do something. Allowing the assumption that someone else will do it will result in it not getting done.

How does this apply to us, as members of a UU community? We pride ourselves in our commitment to others – our Social Action Committee routinely, and wonderfully, guides us to greater commitment to the local community’s needs. But it is the little things that fall through the cracks.

The point of all this is not to ask for money – though if the roof caught on fire, the Building & Grounds committee won’t say no to donations – but to ask of you to be more conscious of your actions. Are you falling victim of the Tragedy of the Commons, do you Ride for Free, are you merely a Bystander in life?

To paraphrase JFK, Ask not what your community can do for you, ask what you can do for your community, whether it be this UU Fellowship, the town you live in, or the wider world as a whole. Let not your decisions be driven solely by self benefit, for Adam Smith was wrong – it will not lead to societal benefits – but instead consider the greater good your actions can create.

Our religious tradition calls on all religious texts to guide us to “grow into harmony with the divine”. So I call on the variety of texts that teach us the same message, that of the Golden Rule:

From Christianity (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31):
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

From Hinduism (Mahabharata, Ansusana Parva 113.8):
“One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire.”

From Confusianism (Analects 15.23):
“Tsekung asked, "Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?" Confucius replied, "It is the word shu--reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you."

From the Yoruba (Nigeria) tribal proverb:
“One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”

From the Talmud (Shabbat 31a):
"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn."

Let us all be the hummingbird of our own community.

Go in Peace, Be at Peace. Blessed Be.

[The Volunteer Coordinator for February tells me that at Coffee Hour, she had lots of members volunteer to make coffee, to bring snacks, and to clean up. Yea!]

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Random Bits of Advice

As a professor, I've gotten used to students coming by the office for advice on a miscellany of issues, from what classes to take to whether parents are being unreasonable for filing divorce papers in the middle of the semester; from what graduate schools to consider to how best to tell the parental units of a non-mainstream sexual orientation; from how to deal with a failing grade to how to deal with a failing relationship. I'm not entirely sure how or why I've become Mother Confessor / Dear Abby, but I do know what the students tell me: that I'm a good listener and that I give great advice. For that, I thank my father.

It's easy to give good advice when in my life I had a father who had given me excellent advice. When I wonder what I should do, the voice I hear is Dad's -- even though he's been gone since 2004. Raised in a house with three older sisters meant that there was a great deal of aggravation for the younger me. I could depend on Dad to be there to advise and to point out the humor of the situation. Years later, I found out that one of his favorite stories was about one of those frustrating times. I was about 7 and deeply exasperated with one of my siblings. He said, with all kindness intended, "You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your family." He laughed whenever he recalled the reply of that 7-year-old: "Yeah, but you sure can try to pick them off!" As I got older, and began to understand the undercurrents and complexities of our family dynamics, his bits of advice were better taken.

He was more than my support system in trying times, he was a fount of great wisdom in all aspects of life. I turned to him for guidance on all sorts of things -- from how to change a tire in the rain by myself to how to deal with relationship issues. I will admit, as is the case with most adolescents and young adults, I would on occasion ignore his exemplary advice -- even saying such things as "I need to learn from my own mistakes", which is a mistake in and of itself -- but in the end, I found that his advice was most excellent.

Thus, as I listen to my students' and friends' tales of dissatisfaction with life, I channel my father. Sometimes, people just want to know that they're on the right track. Other times, they need a gentle devil's advocate to ease them back into rationality. Most just need a touchstone to help them on their way through life. Often, that touchstone is found in the advice-seeker's own words, it just needs to be refined into a simple statement. This is where Dad's best quality, which he then taught to me, was of great assistance: listening. Sometimes, listening is all that is needed. I've had a number of students thank me for my great counsel even when I've said nothing at all; they had managed to work it all out on their own just saying what they needed to out loud. Other times, listening allows me to get to the core of the problem, and from there the advice suggests itself.

Recently, a student came to me for dating advice. After listening to her complaints about the imperfect men in her life and their sometimes unreasonable expectations of her, I gave her a rule that has held me in good stead for decades: 'If you truly love someone, you'd be willing to change everything about yourself for that person; if they truly love you, they'd never ask you to.' She stopped for a moment, thought about that, and told me that I was brilliant. No, I told her, my father had given me that bit of wisdom when I was 15 and it took me a while to realize that it was sound advice, but following it led me to my wonderful husband. "Your father must have been a very smart guy" was her response.

Yes, he was.

Soon it will be another Father's Day without him, and I miss him -- and his advice -- dearly, but I have a hoard of his suggestions, opinions, and recommendations to draw upon whenever I'm stuck for what to do or say. For me, the abbreviation is WWDS -- What Would Dad Say?

Got any wisdom from you father you'd like to share? I'm listening.
Image Source: Quotesbuddy.com

Monday, April 25, 2011

Big Random Words

I like big words and I cannot lie.

La Professora is known to use what I call "S.A.T. words" in lecture because the dumbing down of a college education has been more than just an oxymoron. In my classroom, the expectation is that the students will either already have a working college-level vocabulary or will use those bits of technology they lug to class to look up something useful such as the meaning of a word they don't know, rather than finding out that their BFF's latest MyFace status is "functionally drunk".

Likewise, my love for big words encompasses small words with big meanings. If you can easily spot the nuances between "You cannot go" and "You can not go", or between "You like him more than I" and "You like him more than me", then you too must have a love for small words with big meanings. Unfortunately, those who know the difference are becoming rare.

The push to national standards in writing has left this country with students who studied for "The Test" and who have no real skills when it comes to the English language. I've met students in other countries whose vocabulary in English -- a foreign language to them -- puts the OMGing students here to shame. We are left with American students who cannot differentiate between "then" and "than", let alone between "effect" and "affect".

However, it is not just the national standards and the teaching to the test that are to blame. Technology has its own share of the culpability for the limiting of our national lexicon. Once upon a time, the telephone was cursed for ending the skills of letter writing; emails, it was said, would bring that back to the fore. It was not to be. Texting is now the mode of communication favored by the young and some of the not-so-young, and "text-speak" has become the mode of information dissemination -- a form that is bemoaned by instructors around the world, regardless of primary language.

English is such a rich language with a myriad of ways to communicate the hardest of concepts with the simplest of words, or the simplest of notions in the complexest of political double-speak. Yet our students limit themselves to endless rounds of "like" and "y'know?".

This nescience is due, in part, to the lack of any real reading. Students marvel at the fact that La Professora can devour a novel at a rate of between 60 to 90 pages an hour. What could explain the marveling is a poll done in 2007 that found that 1 in 4 Americans -- 25% for those not so mathematically inclined -- did not read a single book within the previous year. The average number of books read by the other 75% was seven. No wonder Borders Bookstore is going out of business.

La Professora's first semester teaching at the alma mater was the first encounter with the limited vocabulary of the students. Off a group of them went to grumble to the chair of the department that the instructor was using "Big Words" in the research methods course. The chair was laughing when he told me that the exemplar the students had given him in their complaint was "parsimonious". This was the beginning of the expectation that students in all my courses will expand their vocabulary.

So it was, during an average day of teaching 2 semesters ago, that a student raised his hand and asked the question: "Where did you learn all those Big Words?!" I modestly responded that "I read". There was a moment of silence, and then the student asked, "What's the name of the book." Before I could recover from the fact that he had assumed that I had read only one book, another student blurted out, "Dude! It's called The Dictionary!"

I like big words, but never realized that "knowledge" had become one of them.

Image Sources:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Random Nature

It has been a while since La Professora has blogged. I could blame the fact that I was teaching and grading for 8 courses until last week, or I could blame the fact that I'm still trying to get a house unpacked and organized after moving in some 9+ months ago, but the truth is La Professora is a lazy being. It takes a lot to get La Professora worked up enough to want to drop all the personal and professional obligations, but the earthquake and resultant tsunami earlier this month was enough to get me to at least share some of the impressive images that came out of Japan since then.

First, a video, well worth the watch, of the waters rushing in on the tsunami wave:

Then there are photos that seem incredible even after having watched the video:
First, a couple of photos of the damage caused by the earthquake,

then the damage caused by the tsunami.

The video and photos say pretty much everything.

Mother Nature is not some kindly old lady who bakes cookies.
She's a terrorist, striking when we least expect it.

Image Sources:
Broken road 1: http://kiwinewsonline.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Cracked-road-from-Japan-quake-as-shown-on-Japanese-TV.jpg
Broken road 2: http://www.cbsnews.com/i/tim/2011/03/11/quake_620x350.jpg
Before and After: http://www.dhyra.com/2011/03/before-after-satellite-images-of-japan.html
Car on building: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/51650000/jpg/_51650114_jex_984236_de27-1.jpg
Car on building 2: http://www.gimpchat.com/files/196_car-roof-japan-equake-tsunami.jpg
Car on Nose: http://media.naplesnews.com/media/img/photos/2011/03/13/tsunami_15_t607.jpg
shipping containers: http://www.poynter.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Japan-Quake-2011-C.jpg
Airplane: http://www.defencetalk.com/pictures/data/4808/medium/F-16-fighter-tsunami-japan-01.JPG

Monday, August 30, 2010

In No Particular Order V

Here it is, this year's crop of student blogs. Click on any and all that catch your attention to find out what's on the minds of the "average" Political Science student for Fall 2010. Feel free to comment. Students should be posting once a week until the end of the term in December, so there shall be plenty to comment on in the coming weeks.

Writing for the Major
Kristi's Blog
All She Ever Wanted Was Everything
Casual Concepts
Row's Verse
Chaotic Painter
Jolille408's Blog
Truth Versus Delusion
Katie can Dance
The Peace Lover
Writing for Wood
Another David Nguyen Blog
College Rants
Journal of a Californian Student
The Afrontista's Guide
Things I wanna Say
The Orange Appeal
Hard Core Laker