Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Conversation Simulation Software

While I was exploring the options for conversation simulation software (I am not that skilled with Flash so that would take WAY too long to accomplish), I came across KDSimStudio (via eLearning Learning).

I was really excited to try it out since it seemed straight forward and easy to use, and there was a demo version that I could try. The software looks nice, but I found out that it only supports roman character sets (maybe even just ASCII), so all my Greek looks like gibberish.

Too bad because I thought that this software would have been great for language education!

Google for Education

I love the phrase: Collaborating like it's 1999 :-)


What does a D stand for?

Earlier this month I was reading the sinkhole ahead blog post on Inside Higher Ed, which prompted me to read this little rant on the D written by the same author.

You know it's funny, I've been a student for quite some time now and I've never thought of the "D" much. One semester in my undergrad I just wanted to get a D in calculus II so that I can pass and move on. Calculus II wasn't required for any subsequent courses, but I had to take it and pass it, and quite honestly I felt like I was being dragged behind a bus.

In any case, what is debated is what role does D satisfy? I've always thought about the letter grade system as being things similar to my Greek Elementary school grading
A = 'Αριστο = Excellent
B = Πολύ Καλό = Very Good
C = Καλό = Satisfactory/good
D = Μέτριο = So, so (not quite fail, not quite satisfactory, needs work)
F = 0 (Zero)

Now, one of the blog posts mentions the following

D's make some level of sense if you believe the ancient fiction that a 'C' is an average grade. That hasn't been true for a long time, if ever, but if it were true, a 'D' would carry the relatively clear meaning of 'below average, but still acceptable.' Of course, if it were still acceptable, colleges would take it in transfer. But C's aren't really average, and D's aren't really accepted.

Now my way of thinking of grades, I guess, falls under this 'ancient fiction', but the way I see it is that there is a misstep between what the instructor thinks his grading system reflects and what the school's grading measures reflect. If we all graded based on a system that means the same thing to all graders things would improve. I also think that as people we've been conditioned to think of a C as bad because we are all exceptional students. Should we strive to do our best in class? Of course! Should we all expect to be the creme de la creme? We can expect it, it doesn't mean it's happening.

Now, to clear the air, I don't believe in bell curves and contrived ways of making students fit into a bell curve. If 95% of the class deserves and A and 5% deserves a D, that is how it should be graded, but a C should either be respectable (IF it means "good" or "satisfactory") or else the grading system needs to be reworked so that it actually makes sense.

Getting out of Grading - Seriously?


Earlier this month I was reading an article on Inside Higher Ed about about a Duke administrator that went back into teaching, how she found Grading so tiresome that she decided to outsource her students! Yes indeed, students in her class also graded each others papers.

This professor writes:

I can't think of a more meaningless, superficial, cynical way to evaluate learning than by assigning a grade. It turns learning (which should be a deep pleasure, setting up for a lifetime of curiosity) into a crass competition: how do I snag the highest grade for the least amount of work? how do I give the prof what she wants so I can get the A that I need for med school? That's the opposite of learning and curiosity, the opposite of everything I believe as a teacher, and is, quite frankly, a waste of my time and the students' time. There has to be a better way....

I honestly fail to see what's superficial about grading. It's not a beauty contest among the students. Each class has certain educational outcomes. As an instructor for the course you are in charge of saying whether those students have realize those educational outcomes, and if they have to what degree those outcomes have been realized. This isn't some voodoo that you perform to get a student's grade, it's based on a rubric that you make based on your intended educational outcomes!

Now there are pedagogical reasons for letting fellow classmates grade other people's papers, but that grading can't (1) be the sole grading criterion and (2) it can't be self-guided, it's gotta be based on a rubric! If you don't do this all students can sign a pact to give each other a good grade.

I've had classes where I've graded classmates on a given rubric, but that wasn't their final grade. The final grade for that particular project was 75%-80% what the teacher thought and 20%-25% what your peer evaluation said.

All things considered this professor comes off as lazy to me.

The Wrath of Khan

A little Friday PhD humor for you:

I have to say that I've never been that inventive with my project names :-) I just go off swearing up a storm when something does not work ;-)

On ESL and critical thinking - some reactions

I was reading a post titled Language learning, critical thinking and the role of the teacher on the linguist the other day and I was really surprised. Now granted I am not a member of his list-serv, perhaps I should be to get the whole story, even though ESL isn't my immediate field of interest.

Now long story short here, it appears that some people have their feathers ruffled because of the belief that critical thinking should (or should not) be included in the foreign language curriculum. Personally I think that critical thinking activities should be part of the curriculum in any language learning situation because when you are learning a language you are also learning about many other things that influence a language - such as culture, history, popular sayings, predispositions of the natives, and so on. Language is not used in a vacuum and simply learning more vocabulary doesn't mean that you will necessarily be getting more comprehensible input.

Yousef writes (in the comments)
I don't think it's outright racism, but there is certainly an element of cultural superiority and just plain smugness.

Perhaps, perhaps not. The point is that when you are learning a new language, your Weltanschauung changes, or has the potential to change. Some (bad) teachers will be smug about it. Most teachers that I've come in contact with are not smug about the way they think (critically or not). They wanted to help me and my classmates learn.

I find it funny that Steve writes
I would ask them to listen on their MP3 players as much as they can, and to try to reduce their exposure to their native language , so that the brain has a chance to develop an ability to handle English.

It is quite possible that the learners of a foreign language do not have access to playback devices like MP3 players. If all depends on the context of the language learning, the who, why, where and by whom.

I also disagree with Steve about only interacting with texts that are of interest. If you only do that, you are handicapping yourself because you aren't picking up vocabulary and grammatical structures for other situations that you will need to know about. If we all learned about topics we were predisposed to want to learn about in school, we would never be exposed to things that we may like, or that we should know. Situational language, something Steve apparently does not like, is a good springboard to other topics while grounding the learning in something concrete that people will use.

As far as the original question goes: "Is no one here just interested in improving the learners' language skills?"...well it depends on what you mean by language skills. What are your rubrics? Without rubrics how will you know how improved your learners are?

Should we abolish copyright on academic works?

 Permalink two cents...

I saw this on Techdirt about a month ago and it's been lingering in my Google Reader starred items ever since. I've made a good faith effort to read the original but my brain is a bit fried from this summer (and I would like to save a few braincells for the fall semester)

Here's the abstract for the paper:
The conventional rationale for copyright of written works, that copyright is needed to foster their creation, is seemingly of limited applicability to the academic domain. For in a world without copyright of academic writing, academics would still benefit from publishing in the major way that they do now, namely, from gaining scholarly esteem. Yet publishers would presumably have to impose fees on authors, because publishers would not be able to profit from reader charges. If these publication fees would be borne by academics, their incentives to publish would be reduced. But if the publication fees would usually be paid by universities or grantors, the motive of academics to publish would be unlikely to decrease (and could actually increase) – suggesting that ending academic copyright would be socially desirable in view of the broad benefits of a copyright-free world. If so, the demise of academic copyright should be achieved by a change in law, for the ‘open access’ movement that effectively seeks this objective without modification of the law faces fundamental difficulties.

Now as a student in academia my writing has been my writing. No one else could profit from it (i.e. get credit). presumably I could take the idea that I had in the classroom, that I eluded to in some paper and go out and sell it an make money.

Now there are many people out there that research, ponder, and write. They create new knowledge (or validate old hypotheses). These people get the street-cred, after all their names are on the paper that they submit and no one can take that away. But, the money gained from the purchase of that article does not go back to the original author but to the journal that printed it or made it available in some form. Working in a library I know that journal subscriptions costs A LOT of money, none of which the authors see (as far as I know).

What's funny is the fact that many academic that I know of are willing and complacent in this. They are so concerned with tenure (or getting from one level of professor to another), and their courseload that they don't seem to mind that other people are profiting from their work!

Should we abolish copyright on academic works? Yes we should. Academic work should be available in creative commons licensing schemes because academics are creating knowledge that can benefit us all. It seems unethical for people who did not contribute to the knowledge creation cycle to be heavily benefiting from the work of others and then creating a walled garden where content is only accessible to those with fat wallets.

Classes | over

Wow, classes are over!

I suppose I should pop the cork off some wine or something and celebrate - then again school starts again in a couple of weeks so it will be a short lived celebration :-)

This summer went by quite fast. I don't know if it was the crazy weather (mostly gray and rainy), or the fact that I had homework in the summer. Oh well. I still have at least three weeks of homework-free (and Blackboard-free!!!) time to enjoy the rest of the summer :-)

Hopefully this time next year I will be done with my Instructional Design degree!

Selecting an LMS

Selecting an LMS is probably not an easy thing for an organization because many different faculty probably have many different requirements for their classes. This exercise in LMS selection then becomes a balancing act between cost, ease of use, and fulfilling as many of the user requirements as possible.

Last summer, when I was taking INSDSG 619 we spoke about these issues but at a surface level since that wasn't the focus of the course. I think it would be great to offer a course on LMS selection and administration so that students can get their hands dirty with a few types of LMS before graduating. This of course would require the 800lb gorilla in the room (Blackboard) to work out a deal with the university/department to allow for cheap or free experimentation :-)

I came across this small checklist for those who are in the process of thinking of an LMS: click here. In lieu of a full course, it's good enough to get you started thinking about the issues :-)

Depth or Breath?

I was reading this on Slashdot the other day about a person going back to school to complete their computer science degree.

Here's a quick quote:

I recently went back to college to finish my CS degree, however this time I moved to a new school. My previous school taught only C++, except for a few higher level electives (OpenGL). The school I am now attending teaches what seems like every language in the book. The first two semesters are Java, and then you move to Python, C, Bash, Oracle, and Assembly. While I feel that it would be nice to get a well-rounded introduction to the programming world, I also feel that I am going to come out of school not having the expertise required in a single language to land a good job. After reading the syllabi, all the higher level classes appear to teach concepts rather than work to develop advanced techniques in a specific language. Which method of teaching is going to better provide me with the experience I need, as well as the experience an employer wants to see in a college graduate?

Now there are a ton of opinions in the slashdot article that geeks and non-geeks alike should have a look because it poses a good question about what type of education you should get. Should it be as broad as possible? Or should it be more contained but more comprehensive?

This story also brings up an interesting exchange that I had with my undergraduate advisor in computer science. My computer science program did not take the breadth approach, but rather took the more narrow approach. Yes we did learn about automata, basic and advanced algorithms, logic and so on (so all the things that are mentioned in the comments section, and all the things that every computer scientist should know) BUT we didn't do a lot of languages. We covered Java, ANSI C, and x86 Assembly, and if you took specific electives you would get PL/SQL and SmallTalk.

The problem for me was that I was not being familiarized with more languages that exist out there in the real world (like C# for example). What I failed to realize back then is that Java, C and assembly is really what you need to get started. My advisor told me that the program focuses on concepts (well duh!) and that I can learn any language I want on my own easily. The issue I had was that the languages used in the curriculum were not used a whole heck of a lot. Two semester of Java, 2 of C, and one of assembly.

Yes you need to take the bull by the horns and program you own projects and have what the Greeks call μεράκι (I guess the closest equivalent is the concept of being "jazzed about something"), but as an undergraduate with a full course load, and a job, it's not easy to fit in project just for fun.

Personally I would have preferred more familiar with more languages and then I can practice more on my own, rather than this uncomfortable in-between.

What do you think?