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Tag: education

A blog post to keep me in the habit of blogging

It's April! Let's go!

While the main text isn't in Comic Sans, it does appear on every page. =[
Reuben's Fall by Sheri Leafgren. 
This weekend I finished reading Sheri Leafgren's Reuben's Fall: A Rhizomatic Analysis of Disobedience in Kindergarten for the introductory qualitative methods course I'm taking this semester. This is certainly not the sort of book I would have picked up without some coaxing, but I'm glad I did. It attempts to illustrate the focus on obedience in the American school system (particularly in kindergarten) while illustrating that disobedient children are not necessarily "bad" and obedient children are not necessarily "good". The book began as a dissertation (for which I heard it won some sort of award), and that is the version I actually read. I found the dissertation online through the Kent State University website and, because the content is nearly identical to the printed book, I used it as an ebook proxy on my tablet. An added bonus is that the dissertation doesn't use Comic Sans anywhere. [Edit: The typeface used on the cover is Chalkboard, a font that ships on Apple computers.  It isn't Comic Sans, but is close (for key differences notice the 'F' and the 'u'). I begrudgingly accept that it is an appropriate choice, though I still don't like particularly like casual, graphic typefaces. The dissertation is typeset entirely in Times New Roman. This seems like a decent resource for more information about classifying typefaces.] All in all, it was a well-written book that unsettled my understanding of obedience in schools, and I'm glad to have read it.

Other recent developments include the election of new officers for the Statistics Club at UF (I didn't run for any positions and need to update my CV) and my return to active tweeting (@TheDougW). Nothing too exciting. I'm just keeping my head down, working on school and side-projects, trying to not stay still for too long. I've got a few ideas for blog posts with content (mostly about software that I use), so those are in the pipeline.

Also, apparently yesterday was World Backup Day (in addition to being Easter Sunday), so go back up your data if you haven't done so recently! Advice from the website:

"DON'T BE AN APRIL FOOL. Backup your files. Check your restores."

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A productive (in an abstract sense) week

This has been a pretty productive week, all in all. Not a lot to show in terms of work completed/produced, but that isn't everything. Most of the time, but not always. (Also, there's no pun on "abstract" anywhere in here. Sorry to disappoint you.)

On Tuesday I attended a seminar on Backward Design offered by Sarah Miller of Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence Program (University of Wisconsin-Madison) through the CALS Teaching Resource Center, an organization I was unaware of before this event. The focus was on how students learn, practical ways of incorporating active learning into the classroom (e.g. we worked in little teams to turn lecture points into prompts for small discussions), and finally discussed Backward Design. In a nutshell, Backward Design is a three-step process:

  1. Identify the goals for students (i.e. what they should know or be able to do after the course).
  2. Make assessments that actually assess these goals (because students value what you assess, but also build in some gradation into exams).
  3. Fill in the rest of the learning activities for the class.

All in all, this was a helpful seminar and a good use of two hours.

On Friday (today), the GSAC met with the Provost (and the Dean and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, among other big shots). (Recall that GSAC is the Graduate Student Advisory Council for UF's I-Cubed program, and that I am a new member this semester.) While I attended the pre-meeting planning session last week, I have taken a very passive role with regard to the agenda and content (mostly because I lack the perspective gained from attending the previous meeting with the provost). While I wasn't thrilled with the way the presentation ended up developing, it was still a worthwhile presentation to attend, at least from my perspective. The main thing that GSAC was trying to address was the lack of faculty support in some areas for interdisciplinary projects and events, and they were looking for possible solutions from the institutional/administrative side. The response was mild, and with seemingly good reason. The provost offered many good points that GSAC could do to address the issues we perceive, and also noted that 'the faculty' is a very diverse group of individuals that spans the university, and there isn't some magic tool that the administration has to control and inform the entire faculty. The main takeaways from where I was sitting were:

  • Get your message out to as many groups as possible as often as possible. This is the only way to become visible and get the faculty to respect the work GSAC does.
  • Creating space, either physical or virtual, won't be enough to change anything. There must be a clear plan for how such space would be used to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Some faculty have no interest in interdisciplinary collaboration. If a student is interested in interdisciplinary collaboration, then why choose such a faculty member as an advisor?
  • Rather than waiting for an institutional stamp of approval, we should approach the people of power in our departments and colleges directly for things. Go to the source.
  • Similar to the above, if we aren't sure what a group of people (e.g. the faculty) are thinking, we should just go ask them.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration takes a lot of time and effort, and faculty (that are universally very busy) are unlikely to participate in overly broad programs that have the hope of some real result in the end. When doing a project, identify a specific expert need that you have and approach an expert. Explain exactly what you need and how they can directly help.
  • Faculty (and possibly academics more broadly are motivated by three key things):
    1. Money (e.g. grant money) - you can't 'buy' faculty with money to elicit sustained change: when the money dries up, they go elsewhere
    2. Recognition (e.g. authorship or awards) - this is related to money and can be used for promotions, tenure, etc
    3. Intrinsic academic interest (e.g. their love of the field) - they do what they do for a reason: appeal to this reason directly (e.g. "We need your expert knowledge to do X and Y.")
  • Lastly, graduate students should focus on keeping their advisor happy. Advisors control the education of graduate students, and while some negotiation over work and projects can work, in the end what the advisor says goes.

Speaking of keeping my advisor happy... right now I'm still working on some side projects, but I'm trying to only engage in new work that relates to statistics education. I just want to wrap up these holdovers from my previous life and then... onward and upward!

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Statistics: A Guide to the Unknown

Statistics: A Guide to the Unknown, now in its fourth edition, is the product of the ASA-NCTM Joint Committee aimed at introducing statistics, in a non-technical way, to a wide audience. The book is a series of essays on a variety of topics that would likely appeal to many casual readers with the broad goal of improving statistical literacy. There is a strand of research that suggests that attitudes have an effect on achievement (in statistics education); positive attitudes can lead to better achievement. (For more information, see SERJ Volume 11(2), the special issue on attitudes toward statistics.)

Statistics A Guide to the Unknown 3rd edition coverThe third edition (Tanur, Mosteller, Kruskal, Lehmann, Fink, Pieters, & Rising, 1989; featuring essays grouped into four main areas: the biological, political, social, and physical world) is freely available in digital form at the Cengage website. Use the drop-down box to select the different parts of the book. Particularly for introductory courses, these essays may be a valuable tool for convincing students that statistics is useful and valuable.

The fourth edition (Peck, Casella, Cobb, Hoerl, Nolan, Starbuck, & Stern, 2006) seems to be a substantially new volume (hence making the older edition freely available). I have no experience with it, but one would imagine that it has been updated to stay relevant to the public.

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On habits and writing

One cannot be a prolific writer without the noun part of that, so I've got to get better about it. Here, there, everywhere. Spending time in a college of education is... interesting. Many of my colleagues are returning to school following periods of work as teachers. They've experienced public schools as students, teachers, and parents. They see the micro effects of macro issues. They see the macro issues, and to some extent, understand them. I do not share their perspective (having been raised in Catholic schools, taken no breaks in my education, and having no children), and I recognize this as a deficiency.

To that end, I'm trying to at least acquaint myself with macro issues facing the whole of the (US) educational system while I simultaneously thoroughly explore the field of statistics education. TED has furnished some good talks about issues facing education, as have documentaries on Netflix. TED talks are usually rather well done, and in the future I'll likely post some that would serve statistics courses well.

Of course, just writing for the sake of writing isn't all it is cracked up to be. I was discussing poor writing with a colleague and Mathgen came up. Mathgen creates mathematics papers that look professional but are actually just... randomly generated nonsense. Some have even been accepted to journals.

Lastly, I'll leave with a few thoughts I'm ruminating on due to the qualitative methods course I am taking (more for me to remember later on, but if you, the reader, want to chime in that, that'd be great):

  • If one rejects a gender-binary in a philosophical (not political) sense, is it possible to still subscribe to a feminist epistemology/theoretical framework (again, in a philosophical not political sense)?
  • Feyerabend seems to place Science on equal footing with Magic and Religion, but puts the onus on science to prove its claims in arguments. That is, a 'scientist' would be required to use science in an argument, but a religious devotee could participate validly in the same argument with 'because I believe' or something similar. Is this an accurate perspective? What role does critical introspection have in all philosophies such as science and religion?

Both of these ideas may have (reasonably) clear-cut answers of which I am not aware. I'm new to qualitative research and epistemologies and frameworks therein. Moreover, I'm still not through with Against Method yet, so there may be obvious answers in there. Just my thoughts for now, though.

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On moving to a college of education

Today has been characterized by readings for a (required) doctoral colloquium (at which Dr. Terzian spoke) and talking to senior graduate students, in a general way, about their experiences here. A few broad thoughts informed by the happenings of today are below.

Qualifying Exams

  • The stats. department's qualifying exam is a four hour math test consisting of eight problems (two each from four classes). The usual passing grade is a six out of eight, and that is no small feat. I've heard nothing but nightmares about this.
  • The School of Teaching and Learning uses the qualifying exam as a constructive process where the end result forms the basis for one's dissertation later. It lasts about a month and requires writing answers (long, long answers) in response to questions. Some students say it isn't the worst thing ever (knock on wood).
  • The committee is apparently not trying to destroy you.

On Research

  • Tenure is a long way off, but the goal in the first five years of an academic position is writing journal articles that show a deliberate research trajectory that will carry one's career for the time being. The goal is showing the tenure committee a single body of work.
  • When writing, the re-writes are where improvement comes from. Rinse and repeat.
  • Dissertations are first and foremost written to answer a question.

Miscellaneous

  • Education gets little respect in the academy. There are several hypotheses for this, including that it is a gendered field (because it has many aspects associated with femininity).
  • Do what you like. (Polonius's "To thine own self be true.")
  • At research institutions research is respected. (That's about all that is respected.)

Overall, I'm still apprehensive about starting this program... it is sufficiently removed from my last program that I am in the process of finding my footing. Taking REM classes is helping ease my transition, but there is only so long that I can take those classes for.

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