school, books, experiences: in my own words (more or less).

Location: Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Multiple Choice Tests?!


Multiple choice questions belong in surveys, not tests!

I just disagree with the entire teaching philosophy that employs that kind of evaluation device. I mean, it's so out of touch with reality that it would be laughable save for the fact that almost all (if not every) post-secondary institutions (which we pay thousands of dollars to attend) use them. It reaffirms, in my mind, that the primary purpose of junior (1st and 2nd years) post-secondary institutions is to weed out students, not on learning as we see in the later years, evidenced by more critical thinking exercises and evaluation. All of this just points to the simple fact that there are simply too many students to teach, the teacher to student ratio is too high. For interest sake, I'd like to go back to the era of scholars like Aristotle and see how, and if, the teacher as mentor model could be applied to modern educational environments.

I think there is a lot of value being discovered, and yet to be discovered, in group work. For instance, to alleviate the teacher's impossible burden of marking the essays of every student in a large class of potential hundreds, students could taught how to evaluate and mark other's papers within a group. Of course, due to the volume of material covered in early post-secondary years, the papers would have to be short in length, and the questions carefully selected; perhaps they could even be varied, or self-selected from a set of choices by the student. The teacher would provide the grading rubric to the students in advance for both writing and evaluating papers. A paper would get multiple marks, one for each student in a group; the "final" mark would be an average of these. Potentially, a student could even provide a self-evaluation. As part of the marking, each student would justify the assigned grade. The author of the paper could then submit to the teacher a brief statement indicating agreement or disagreement with the final mark, citing appropriate reasons either way. The teacher, and/or TAs if available, would have the final say in the assignment of the final mark. Not only does this teach students valuable skills such as analysis, evaluation, writing, opportunities to demonstrate learning (compared to MC evaluation) but also develops social and teamwork skills. Latent secondary effects could possibly include the formation of friendships, study groups, etc, which would potentially decrease dropout rates through increased social cohesion. Additionally, this would also serve to better prepare students for subsequent years of study, and for occupational realities.

I'm positive this idea is not new. Why don't we see it, why isn't it used?

The course I'm taking, first year Sociology, is extremely interesting in terms of the content covered. The professor also contributes positively to the classroom environment, giving the content voice and perspective. But after forking out almost $1000 CDN (~$100 of which were for fees I had no use for or couldn't use but was still charged for) and then another ~$250 for books, I just don't feel that I'm getting "bang for my buck" with the entire course grade being based on multiple choice exams (save 10% for tutorial participation, which turns out to be attendance, rather). In hindsight, I wish I had bought and read the books. I should note that I'm taking this course for interest, I already have a B. Sc. degree., so I'm not particularly interested in grades per se.

I'm really interested to see how Wikipedia's Wikiversity is going to turn out. That, coupled with a network of bloggers of a similar subject interest, could be your own personal university. I guess time will tell...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Live 8: Maybe not such a good idea?

Some links to interesting opinions on why foreign aid may be doing more harm than good:

Excerpt from "For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!" - Thilo Thielki of SPIEGEL interviews James Shikwati:

"The Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati, 35, says that aid to Africa does more harm than good. The avid proponent of globalization spoke with SPIEGEL about the disastrous effects of Western development policy in Africa, corrupt rulers, and the tendency to overstate the AIDS problem."

Excerpt from "The Economics of Aid" - Bubblegeneration post by Mahashunyam:
"What poor countries need is help in building up infrastructure, reform of governance structures, and skills and competence building to create human capital. Then they need to build their economies through entreprenurship and access to rich country markets in a fair trade regime. More aid and debt relief are just recipes for continuing the disaster in poor countries while presenting profiteering opportunities to well-connected rich country producers."

Eliminating Gender-specific Language

Lately, I find myself struggling in composing sentences that are generic-male (or female) free. For example, the sentence "A blogger should be conscientious of the language he uses" is loaded with a male pronoun ("he"), which could mislead a reader into thinking that by bloggers I mean men (quite obviously there are female bloggers too).

Here are some useful tips that I've summarized from a larger article prepared by Jennifer Jorden-Henley of the Online Writing Lab at RSCC:

  • The subjects can be made plural: "A doctor must use his own judgment in prescribing medication" becomes "Doctors must use their own judgment...."
  • Use words such as "one," "someone," "anyone," "the one." For example: "He who loses the battle sometimes wins the war," becomes "One who loses the battle sometimes wins the war."
  • Eliminate the pronoun: "When he arrives at the scene, the officer should assess the scope of the emergency" can be changed to "Upon arriving at the scene, the officer...."
  • Recasting the sentence in second person is another solution. "Man never understands his strengths until he has been tested" can be changed to "You never understand your strengths until you have been tested."

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bono's 3 wishes

Bono, of the band U2, was recently one of three winners of the inaugural TED humanitarian award. As such, he was awarded $100,000 and was allowed to ask the 800 attendees to grant 3 wishes, which were:

  1. to organize 1 million American activists committed to fighting poverty in the world, especially in Africa;
  2. to spread an antipoverty message 1 billion times before the July 6-8 Group of Eight meeting; and
  3. to wire every hospital, health clinic, and school in one country -- Ethiopia -- to the Internet.
To assist with the second wish, famous actors and actresses such as Cameron Diaz, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and company, are shown in antipoverty web-ads that deliver a message of how we can step forward, one by one, to make a difference.

Very noble, I couldn't agree with the cause more, but I'm also interested to know what these individuals are doing outside of appearing in a web-ad directed to the general public. I'm of the mind that the social and financial status that comes with being a huge Hollywood movie star also comes with some responsibility to society (ditto for corporations). The greatest wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few. One George Clooney can easily contribute more than several thousand Brad Carsons can (very modest estimate, mind you) so when George and his pals show up on my doorstep (or in my web browser as it were) asking for a handout in the name of poverty, forgive me if the hypocrisy and irony of the situation prevent me from scribbling out a big cheque on the spot. Try canvasing Microsoft or Pepsi instead.

Read more on Bono's challenge in this article from Business Week.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Sociology 101 - Deviance & Control - Part I

Deviance can loosely be defined as "rare behaviour" since it flies in the face of conventional norms. As such, one could consider Mother Teresa as a devianct, although we (society) tends to focus on the negative aspects of deviance. Deviance elicits moral condemnation and is therefore subject to social control.

Deviance is not a static thing; rather it varies in time and place. It is a product of culture. Consider, for example, attitudes towards gays and lesbians, tattoes, and sex. Why do we make rules? Why do we obey them? Durkheim questioned the purpose of both rules and rule-breakers in society. Are both necessary? Do they serve a purpose? If not, why do they persist?

Deviance may be both objective and subjective. Objective deviance refers to the characteristics that define deviance. In other words, objective deviance is our perception of what deviance is. On the other hand, subjective deviance refers to the moral status associated with such behaviour, created by "powerful others". Crime rates reflect both types; someone makes law, another breaks it.

Deviance is a complex subject. There are many definitions, competing theories and sources of error in (collecting) data. As such, sociology may be considered as "harder" than criminology, which one might argue is "cut-and-dry". I'm inclined to disagree considering the many loopholes in law and how differently it may be interpreted.

Deviance is also complicated due to research difficulties: maintaining secrecy, ethical dilemnas and safety risk. In researching deviance, researchers need to gain the trust, otherwise it is hard to gain information. People are not usually willing to talk about their personal deviant experiences. Additionally, if a research uncovers a crime he/she faces an ethical dilemna. Should the crime be reported? Should evidence be revealed to a court? It is interesting to consider that the same protection that applies to doctors and priests do not extend to scoiologists. Finally, a research may be placed in a dangerous or threatening situation, such as conducting a study of the Hell's Angels biker gang. On the other hand, research participants are vulnerable since findings may be used against them.

There are 4 paradigms of the causes of deviance: poor socialization, limited opportunity, faulty attachment and insufficient rewards. These four a primarily functionalist perspectives and focus on order, consensus, and public benefits.

Durkheim examines deviance from a different angle, claiming it is positive and actually serves to enhance and re-affirm community, social cohesion and moral codes. People tend to commit crimes, he says, when they are detached from people and rules.

to be continued...