Friday, August 13, 2010

Who do the Google ads on my blog think I am?

I have Google ads turned on for my blog in the vain hopes that some day people will read this and I'll become rich and famous. The other day, I noticed an interesting set of ads featured: electronic medical records (EMR), help on writing, a pro-life "abortion" clinic, and visual materials for Bible studies. What a mixed up bunch of ads!

Google tries to put ads that are related to the content the page. I'm going to try and guess what triggered each of the ads.

The EMR ad probably appeared because I mentioned doctors or medical topics.

The writing help likely appeared because I have written about the writing process.

I have a couple of posts on abortion. I guess these anti-clinics are trying to divert people with so-called "abortion information."

Bible study materials likely appeared in response to my post on a sermon.

It is creepy how strange and apt the set of ads is. So, I must be pro-choice Christian who writes and likes medical stuff. Sounds about right. Nothing about computers or technology... hmm. :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What separates an "A" student from the rest

I have been teaching the same course at UCI for six, almost seven years now. The first time that I taught Inf111 was Winter Quarter, 2004. (Technically, it was ICS121 at the time. It wasn't re-numbered until a couple years later.) I have learned a lot about teaching in those years, but that is a topic for another time. I have learned a lot about learning, but not enough. I have a couple of observations about students who do well, who get "A's" in school.

An "A" student organizes their life in a way that allows them to succeed. This is the single most significant characteristic that separates an "A" student from a "D" student. An "A" student ensures that they has enough time to study and keeps distractions at bay. A "D" student has a fight with their significant other the night before the final exam, which keeps them up all night AND prevents them from studying.

An "A" student submits assignments on time. A "D" student submits assignments late or not at all. It's a small thing, but it makes a difference.

An "A" student shows up. Lecture is not necessarily the best way to absorb new material, but it does provide two key benefits. One, it provides time with the material, which leads to familiarity and comfort with the material. It almost doesn't matter what is covered during the lecture. Two, lectures are an opportunity for a student to assimilate into a culture. In other words, the student can learn the logic behind a discipline and how to structure an argument within the genre. This affinity is important for answering open-ended questions on tests and for solving open-ended problems in an acceptable manner.

An "A" student does well on the first evaluation. There is almost a perfect positive correlation between a student's score on the first evaluation (no matter how large or small) with the student's final overall grade in the course. This relationship sometimes makes me despair my role as a teacher, but it's a central truth. Graduates from Ivy League schools do well, because they were doing well before they enrolled in the school.

An "A" student doesn't necessarily start ahead of time. Some "A" students have a finely honed sense of the "last minute," i.e. the last possible moment to start an assignment or studying for a test and still succeed.

An "A" student isn't necessarily the smartest or most engaged person in the class. Intelligence helps, but the ability to organize one's life trumps raw processing power.

So what does this say about education more broadly?

Students who don't have support and orderly lives do less well. This describes a lot of working class and inner city kids. It's almost like they are doomed before they start. And this is why we celebrate when a kid with a complicated home life succeeds-- they have beaten the odds.

Good teaching matters more to students in the middle of the pack. Students at the head of the class tend to be capable book learners and can drive their own learning experience. Not everyone learns in this way. Classroom exercises, presenting material in other modalities, and accommodation of learning styles are ways that good teachers can make sure average students learn the material. "B" and "C" students need more help engaging with written material, and consequently innovative teaching has more impact on them. This tendency also has implications for working class and inner city kids, which is why programs like "Teach for America" are important.

Teaching "A" students is rewarding, because it provides a form of cheap and easy validation for me: I taught it, they got it. Teaching "B" and "C" students is rewarding, because it allows me to make a difference in outcomes. We're comrades in the same war: while I struggle to teach well, they struggle to learn well.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Feedback on my CSCW Paper

I submitted my "first" CSCW paper last Friday. (Technically, it's not my first. It just feels like it. I co-authored a paper with Don Patterson a couple of years back, but it was his idea and I was just around to help him with the writing. This time, I was involved starting from the data collection onwards and I was primary author.)

I had set aside the month of July to work on the paper, but I spent the first couple of weeks faffing around. I had been working pretty hard before that, so I needed the break. Two weeks before the deadline, I started work in earnest. Then I was sidelined by a migraine for three days. Not good.

By the Monday before the deadline, I had six pages and I was thoroughly confused. I needed feedback and lots of it. Judy Olson read my paper on Monday and gave me some high level comments. I wrote three more pages on Tuesday and brought it to the LUCI lab "pass around." It's standard practice at LUCI that in the days leading up to a deadline people get together and critique each other's papers. I gratefully took advantage of their generosity.

Here is a summary and paraphrase of the feedback that I got.
Judy Olson: Is your point that you think people should be using narrative to coordinate their work?
Paul Dourish: I have no idea what you are talking about.
Silvia Lindtner: Why is this a CSCW paper? You need to be more specific about articulation.
Gillian Hayes: Great data, but it needs to be more "together."

They were all absolutely right. But how to incorporate all their great comments?

I spent Wednesday reading some papers and by evening I started the re-write in earnest. It was crazy, but I made it. On Thursday at 9pm, I was re-analyzing the data on my kitchen table. I had little pieces of paper, index cards, highlighters, paper clips, and post-it notes. I had a complete draft by 9am. I took a small nap and went back to editing. It was submitted by 4:30pm.

Whew. It was exhausting, but man, was it fun. I find that the more confused I am in the middle of writing a paper, the better it turns out in the end. This time, I knew there were problems, but I couldn't put my finger on what they were. I probably would have figured it out in the end, but it was much quicker to get feedback. I also find that if I really hate a paper by the time I submit, it's probably a pretty good paper. It means that I have worked on the paper for so long that I see only the flaws. It's a bit like looking at your own face in the mirror and seeing every pimple, freckle, and blemish. In both cases, you overlook the beauty of everything all put together.

Thanks to everyone who read my paper. It really helped.