teaching: November 2006 Archives

Idiocy of some sort, yes

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Hard to ignore the shot across the bow disguised as an IHE story this morning: Are College Students Techno Idiots?, where among other things, we learn that

A new report released Tuesday by the Educational Testing Service finds that students lack many basic skills in information literacy, which ETS defines as the ability to use technology to solve information problems.

Well, if by "report," they mean a PowerPoint deck that is stuffed with generalizations and bullet points, and atrociously designed in places, then yes, a report happened. I remember taking a little trip over to ETS to see what they were defining as Information Literacy™, and it all came rushing back to me as I revisited their Flash demo. My personal favorite is the task where a body is asking to take an email and to compose a single, persuasive PowerPoint-ish slide to present to a faculty advisor.

A persuasive slide? Umm. A healthy part of information literacy is, in fact, knowing that a single-slide PowerPoint is unlikely to be the best way to persuade one's faculty advisor. And there are similar difficulties all the way through the demo questions that I saw. There are some pretty weak attempts to instantiate "IL principles" that ignore the fact that most of what we do as "literates" is heavily context-based. I'm not sure that generic test scenarios are going to be the best way to assess this. Nor am I convinced that many of these "skills" can be reduced to right/wrong sorts of answers.

And of course, the folk who are supporting this study are those who have direct, vested interest in convincing us that there's some sort of IL crisis. Of course. Doesn't take a great deal of information literacy to suss that out.

Too much of this strikes me as Critical Thinking! With Computers! I suppose. Maybe that explains why it just leaves me feeling sour.

Snip snap snout.

Turnitinica Mars

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It was probably only a matter of time, what with Veronica Mars headed to college and all, for plagiarism to find its way into the plot of at least one episode. And tonight it did, as Veronica's paper for her Criminology class is "lit up like a Christmas tree" by the "plagiarism scanner" used at Hearst College to police its students. Don't read on if the episode's sitting on your TiVo...

First Year Spamposition

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This is the first entry of the November 30. And I'm stamping it 55 seconds shy of midnight, November 2nd. So there. And I'll almost certainly double-post tonight to get Nov 2 out of the way as well.

Anyhow, over at Doug Rushkoff's joint, he relays to us a story of a recent email bombardment:

So for the past week or so, I've been getting all these weird emails from people with Richmond.edu return addresses. Most of them are in the form of short essays, either agreeing or disagreeing with some of the points I make in the introduction to my book Screenagers (formerly, Playing the Future).

Problem is, most of them aren't aware that they've only read a brief excerpt from the book, and thus "They kept referring to it as an 'essay,' and wanted to know why I hadn't brought up points that end up being made (or refuted) in the book itself."

Wait. It gets better. Rushkoff writes back to each of the students, which in some cases is far more than they deserve, and

The weirdest part, though, is that the most obnoxious ones seemed surprised - almost insulted - that I wrote them back. These ones told me that they were forced to send their essay to me by their teacher, that they don't care at all about my book or essay, and that I shouldn't have responded to their emails.

Rushkoff's being an incredibly good sport about it. A quick web search on the domain and his name unearths the syllabus and the teacher's name, along with an email address. A quick rule in Mail preferences will redirect all those emails back to the instructor. A quick note to the Chair of the English Department...and so on.

What's sad about the whole debacle is that neither the instructor nor the students seem to have given sufficient thought to:

1. the fact that most writing texts excerpt long pieces by the authors they publish (I'd be surprised if the intro to the excerpt didn't make that abundantly clear)
2. responding directly and critically to a writer without first checking to see if s/he has written more extensively on the subject, excerpt or no, is not a great idea
3. sending an email to someone, unless the address is fake, actually sends an email to someone
4. failing to pay attention to 1-3 and pressing ahead will make you, your students, your department, and your school all look moronic

There are lots of great examples of published authors corresponding with groups of students about their work--the connectivity allowed by the net can be a great source of interaction--but what strikes me about this whole episode is just the colossal disrespect shown by the instructor and subsequently by the students to Rushkoff:

And the only ones who write me back - just two of them, so far - have written to say it's crazy for me to write them back, and they either didn't mean what they wrote or just didn't care.

Wow. I can't say much more than that. Wow.



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This page is a archive of entries in the teaching category from November 2006.

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