An early rubric

For the last 15 years or so, I’ve been a big fan of rubric grading. I got the bug after reading a column by my colleague Robert Runte in our faculty association newsletter. Over the years, I’ve developed a variety of different rubrics, several of which have been adopted and adapted by my own colleagues (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »


Been there, done that: Art history as a model for the effect of technology on disciplinary development

Evidence of why it is useful to read outside your main areas of disciplinary interest…

I’ve been reading my way through Revisualizing visual culture (Ashgate 2010), on a number of titles I bought from the Ashgate stand at the the recent DH 2012 conference in Hamburg. Most of the chapter thus far have been relevant to work we are doing with the Visionary Cross project, especially now that we are starting to get usable 3D meshes (as time allows, I hope to post some other small posts about the various chapters in this and my other recent reading). Read the rest of this entry »


David Brooks: The eighties, nineties, and oughts called and they want their rhetoric back

The Romney campaign doesn’t seem to know how to respond. For centuries, business leaders have been inept when writers, intellectuals and politicians attacked capitalism, and, so far, the Romney campaign is continuing that streak.

David Brooks

Brooks has been paying attention the last three decades, right? Intellectuals and politicians winning a rhetorical war over the value of capitalism in the face of rhetorical ineptness on the part of business interests? Seriously? Since Reagan and Thatcher?

I think that film must be playing in the other theatre.


Ideas have consequences: Prometheanism, the university as corporation, and the leadership debacle at the University of Virginia

One of the books I am currently reading is Public no more: a new path for excellence for America’s public universities. This is a book by Gary C. Fethke and Andrew J. Policano, two business school administrators who explore how market-focussed techniques that apparently are common in U.S. business schools could be applied to the larger enterprise of running a public research university.

One of the thrilling things about this book is just how far out of line it is with what I (and the authors) imagine to be mainstream thought on the purpose of higher education, its relationship to societal and personal benefit, and the definitions of quality and success.  The authors take a fundamentally and completely market-based and competition-driven approach to their analysis, and seem genuinely unable to see any value in (or at times even literally understand) more traditional approaches. Read the rest of this entry »


De ooggetuige [The eye witness],Simone van der Vlugt

Just finished reading De ooggetuige [The eye witness], the gift given to customers by booksellers in the Netherlands as part of “Thriller Month.”

These gifts are a lovely part of the Dutch literary scene: the most famous is the Boekenweek geschenk, an annual gift during “book week”; they are usually short works (ca. 90 pp. in a small format paperback) by authors of note.  I’d never heard of Maand van het Spannende Boek (Month of the Thrilling Book) before, but I do like the idea of there being more times for getting free books in the year. Read the rest of this entry »


Visualising grades: An interesting idea from the Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail ran what looked like a genre piece this morning about badly-written and hard-to-understand report cards–an annual rite it seems to me. But it ended with a side bar that I found quite thought-provoking: what a better-designed report card might look like:

The Globe and Mail’s proposal for a more visual report card.

Read the rest of this entry »


Siva Vaidhyanathan on the value of public research

A great statement today in Slate by Siva Vaidhyanathan about the value of public research:

We Americans take these institutions for granted. We assume that private enterprise generates what is so casually called “innovation” all by itself. It does not. The Web browser you are using to read this essay was invented at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The code that makes this page possible was invented at a publicly funded academic research center in Switzerland. That search engine you use many times a day, Google, was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation to support Stanford University. You didn’t get polio in your youth because of research done in the early 1950s at Case Western Reserve. California wine is better because of the University of California at Davis. Hollywood movies are better because of UCLA. And your milk was not spoiled this morning because of work done at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

 These things did not just happen because someone saw a market opportunity and investors and inventors rushed off to meet it. That’s what happens in business-school textbooks. In the real world, we roll along, healthy and strong, in the richest nation in the world because some very wise people decided decades ago to invest in institutions that serve no obvious short-term purpose. The results of the work we do can take decades to matter—if at all. Most of what we do fails. Some succeeds. The system is terribly inefficient. And it’s supposed to be that way.

Along the way, we share some time and energy with brilliant and ambitious young people from around the world.

Important to realise this is also a selective list. Other things generated in whole or in part by publicly funded researchers and institutions include Unicode and XML.

Can anybody think of others?


This time it’s different: “ever since Plato” department (short)

From Public no more: A new path to excellent for America’s public universities, in which two business school deans explain how following the b-school model will improve higher education:

The belief that higher education should be funded by society dates back at least to the fourth century BCE, when Plato’s academy offered free admission to selected students–a philosophy that prevailed throughout most of history. Today we face a different and challenging environment… (3).

Talk about the need for transformative change!

Read the rest of this entry »


“There’s no Next about it”: Stanley Fish, William Pannapacker, and the Digital Humanities as paradiscipline

In a posting to his blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education, William Pannapacker identified the Digital Humanities as an emerging trend at the 2009 Modern Language Association Convention.

Amid all the doom and gloom of the 2009 MLA Convention, one field seems to be alive and well: the digital humanities. More than that: Among all the contending subfields, the digital humanities seem like the first “next big thing” in a long time, because the implications of digital technology affect every field.

I think we are now realizing that resistance is futile. One convention attendee complained that this MLA seems more like a conference on technology than one on literature. I saw the complaint on Twitter.

The following year, he was able to say the discipline had arrived.

The digital humanities are not some flashy new theory that might go out of fashion. At this point, the digital humanities are The Thing.  There’s no Next about it. And it won’t be long until the digital humanities are, quite simply, “the humanities.”

As Pannapacker noted here and in yet another posting on the topic, these observations were met with some unease in the discipline. Some resented the perceived implication that the digital humanities were new; others were concerned about his observation that the field was beginning to take on the trappings of previous trendy topics, most notoriously the cliquishness and focus on exclusivity thought to be characteristic of “Big Theory.” Read the rest of this entry »


Publish or perish: Should graduate students publish before graduation?

The Graduate Education Initiative (GEI) discussed in Educating scholars: Doctoral education in the humanities was focussed on improving graduate education.

Two important premises of the project were that improvement would involve reducing time-to-degree (TTD) and both reducing and shifting attrition among entering cohorts (so that less people dropped out and those that did dropped out earlier). Driving these premises lay the startling statistics about TTD and attrition in Humanities PhD programmes: about 50% of entering students left their programmes before completion, and about 1/2 of those who stayed failed to complete their degree by the end of their seventh year (the mean TTD across departments was 7 years, 3.5 months).

Speeding up time to degree, however, brings with it potential costs as well: perhaps humanities graduate students are taking so long to write their dissertations because the work is intrinsically time-consuming, or because they are concentrating on quality over speed, or because they are writing articles and otherwise polishing their resumes in preparation for the job market. Does speeding up TTD at the cost of these activities improve graduate education?

Read the rest of this entry »


Those who can’t teach do? The importance of “failure” to the survival of the humanities

Educating scholars: doctoral education in the humanities has an interesting set of chapters addressing the question of what happens to PhD students after they leave their programmes, with or without a degree.

The study of focussed on graduates of prominent departments in ten elite universities who were in programme in the period between 1991 and 2001 and so is looking at both a fairly strongly marked class of student and a strongly marked time period: the students they are following had what they describe as high “departmental prestige” when they entered the job market; and, while predictions of the faculty shortage in humanities that in part prompted this study (4) never actually appeared, their subjects do appear to have graduated into an academic job market that was more open than that immediately before or afterwards.

So with all these provisos in mind, what happened to the students? A number of sets of figures stand out.

Read the rest of this entry »


Love and marriage and progress-to-degree: Surprising effect of marital status and gender on PhD completion

From Educating scholars: doctoral education in the humanities:

We ask “Do the gender differences in attrition and completion patterns that we have observed reflect differences in family status by gender?”

To preview our findings, we find that there are no gender differences in the attrition and completion among students who are single. The overall gender differences in completion rates and attrition rates that we observed… are driven by the fact that married men are less likely to leave graduate school and more likely to earn degrees, whereas married women and single women do not differ in these respects. Having children at the time of entry to doctoral study is associated with increased chances of completing the degree within 10 years among men (but not significantly so), but this is not the case with women. Furthermore married men with children at the time of entry to doctoral study have shorter TTD [Time to Degree] than single men. In short marriage and fatherhood are beneficial for men when it comes to completing degrees. At the same time, contrary to popular expectation, marriage and motherhood are not detrimental for women (157, emphasis added).

I’ve long felt that the greatest pressure on attrition in graduate school, particularly PhD programmes, but also lower levels, is life. I.e. one is in graduate school at exactly the same time in one’s life when people with similar abilities and training are establishing themselves in careers, business, and, especially, families. As with the “popular expectation,” I assumed this would result in greater attrition pressures on women.

So it was a surprise to see that marital status has its real effect on the attrition of male students and that it doesn’t affect women.

Read the rest of this entry »


Within the Hollow Crown: A Sad Tale of the Death of Kings (Radio Play)

“Within the Hollow Crown: A Sad Tale of the Death of Kings” was a radio play based on William Shakespeare’s Richard II, and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. The play broadcast on the University of Toronto student radio station CIUT-FM on March 22, 1987 and April 5, 1987. Read the rest of this entry »
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