Monday, March 06, 2006

Hidden in Plain View

Following on with the theme of the last post, I’m going to continue to discuss ideas on which crucial points are a mystery to me.

In today’s NY Times there is a column by Paul Krugman and another column by Bob Herbert both of which mentions nukes, indeed the Herbert piece centers on them. But for whatever reason, to me they both seem to be missing the main point (and I think that is because they both have their own prior agenda to pursue). Krugman’s piece is about Bush being so clueless as to the well being of the average American that he can’t get it right even when he does get it right, as with promoting trade with India. Herbert’s piece is about nuclear proliferation, in other words using Nukes as weapons, and how the U.S.- India deal violates all sorts of treaties and sets a terrible precedent.

All this is true, but it seems to me that the deal with India is first and foremost about energy supply, not about weaponry, and in effect the deal says that for the emerging economies of the 21st century, India now and surely China to follow in the not too distant future, nukes are the answer, or at least a big part of the answer, and especially with the rising price of crude oil this seems like a no-brainer as far as describing what is happening. But the surprise to me, given the moratorium on construction of nuke plants in the U.S., and presumably the inability to provide reasonable assurance that Chernobyl or Three Mile Island won’t recur, as well as the inability to provide safe and effective ways of disposing of the spent fuel, is why nobody seems to be up in arms about this solution. We can’t create nuke plants at home, because the lobbying against is too great, but there’s nothing stopping us to give nuke plant technology to the emerging Asian giants, so there we go for it unabashed and certainly undeterred. Perhaps Bush’s plan all along was to make the American people so contemptuous of his management ability that they wouldn’t question him when he really is making policy, critically important policy, and naturally without any debate, in Congress, the press, or anywhere else.

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Apart from a few friendly tips offered up by Burks Oakley and Ray Schroeder when I was getting started with this blog, I’ve received no instruction from anyone else about how to write my posts. I’ve no doubt that I’m better at doing this than a year ago, I’ve found a certain rhythm and so have some sense of what I’m trying to achieve with the writing although content-wise I leave the writing itself as an exploration activity. In other words, there is no detailed plan in advance as to how the themes will be covered. That comes out in the doing. There is only a loose idea of what to touch upon. This may seem like a cookie cutter approach, but it is not, and I feel I’m still learning how to do it and do it better. One small piece of evidence on that score is that in the past month or so some of my sentences have gotten longer. I’ve been trying that out, tying together a chain of thought that is interconnected into a sentence structure that a year ago I would have made simpler, but now I’ve got the confidence to do otherwise. So there is change and learning.

The key thing from my point of view is keeping at it, finding a time to write and doing it regularly. My sense is that full time undergraduate students in the main don’t learn that because the requirements imposed on them make it difficult. Regular writing doesn’t match up with the course work in any obvious way so the classes don’t push the student into this sort of behavior. How might we get them there is a question we all should be asking, but nobody seems to be. Why not? (Sometimes short sentences work best.)

There is then the related issue of how important instructor critique is to making the writing better. On the whole, I’m guessing its mostly a constipator – students can’t get their (formative and perhaps ill conceived) ideas out because of fear of that critique and hence the instructor gets in the way even if the instructor is trying to be friendly and encouraging. Of course, there is the Ken Bain point I mentioned a few weeks ago that the students may very well be comfortable in their uneducated views and freely flowing writing may nonetheless be bad because it expresses ignorance and no interest in self-expansion by bringing in new ideas and challenging their own prior assumption. So a students demand for security and comfort cuts against their ability to learn, especially through their own writing. This means there has to be some joy in intellectual risk taking for writing on a regular basis to be a source of deep learning. Again, how we get there is a question we should be asking.

I’ve talked about needing a regular pattern of writing, but a common mistake is that the pattern is only the time spent at the keyboard. There needs to be the prior time for incubation of ideas and groping as to what to try out, with a possible mental rehearsal of the argument and how that plays. This is certainly necessary. I watch my younger kid – he’ll be 12 at the end of the month – acting out scenes from Age of Empires or a Simpsons episode – and I know he has inborn in him this need to for story telling. It’s in the essence of his make up. And he seemingly does it in his play time now, but I’m guessing this will ready him for doing it in his serious school time when he is in college. But do other kids learn this? Do they try out ideas and rehearse them on their own? Should the school be responsible for teaching this sort of thing? And can it be taught independent of some writing activity or delivery of a performance? Hmmm.

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Glenda Morgan, in her Accidental Pedagogy blog made an interesting observation about gender bias in edu blogging. Her guess is that we’re about 50 – 50 on gender lines among learning technology professionals. That seems a reasonable guess to me, in the absence of harder data to give us a more precise picture. But she observes that the bloggers within this group are overwhelmingly male. So why the discrepancy?

I don’t know but I can suggest some hypotheses based on the following observation – most learning technology blogs are on the periphery of work, not the center of it. The boss may be fine that we’re doing it, but hasn’t sanctioned it. So it is part work related but also partly a way for us to devoted some of our “leisure time” to work related activities. (If that seems like a strain in interpretation please not that I am an economist and I’m trying to apply standard economic methodology to consider this issue.)

If blogging is partly leisure then the way leisure (here this should be interpreted as all time that is not market compensated work, so doing the dishes is leisure if you’re not a professional dishwasher) is perceived may vary systematically across gender, with women probably viewing the time constraint as tighter than men (quite likely because of child care responsibilities). If blogging is mostly work presumably it offsets time spent on other work projects and hence there may the issue of how much time is devoted to pursuits that given individual recognition versus pursuits that give organizational recognition and that split differs along gender lines.

I wonder if publications in Educause Review or Educause Quarterly also map this way and if not why? Something for us to be thinking about.

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