Google Reader or not, that is the question

reader-gatorSome time ago, shortly after Google Reader was launched, I made a choice to stick with desktop applications for reading RSS across multiple computers. It’s a choice I’ve stuck with for a couple of years now, and it’s a choice I’m beginning to doubt. Continue reading “Google Reader or not, that is the question”

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Off the tenure track

Non-tenure track instructors teach nearly 49 percent of undergraduate courses in the United States, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Many of those instructors work part-time and aren’t paid as much as their tenured or tenure-track counterparts. Non-tenure track instructors make up nearly 70 percent of the professoriate in the U.S.

This information comes from a report issued by the American Federation of Teachers, which worries that academic freedom is compromised because most of the undergraduate instructors in the country lack the job security that comes with tenure.

When you can lose your job at any time because of budgetary reasons or because of something you said or did, I’d say academic freedom is compromised.

Thought on the rhetorical and righteous mind

Alex Reid, after some discussion of the smaller-than-previously-thought role the conscious mind actually plays in human life, tells us that “teaching practices work fairly well for the most part, even though they are built on a likely faulty model of the mind.”

In part, that’s because writing relies on a lot of the subconscious functions built in to the human brian, Reid writes. So he asks what we can do to help students develop these subconscious processes and become better writers.

He writes that we might think of the mind itself as a rhetorical device “that allows us to construct relationships like author and audience for purposes of communication.” Basically, we model the behavior we want students to learn — acting like good writers in the hope that the students will emulate that behavior and become good writers themselves.

There seems to be a lot of responsibility there. I’m not a writing teacher anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what it was like or that I won’t become one again. Holding myself (or at least my mind) as a model for my students seems fraught with pressure. What if my mind isn’t of the right rhetorical shape? Will my students learn effectively?

Basically, if my mind is not of the right rhetoric, if I am just “acting” like a good writer when really I am not, will that artifice show through? Will the students get a deep educational experience if my mind is not of the right shape?

This lends itself, in my mind, to dedication. Perhaps as a struggling grad student, I was not as dedicated to teaching as someone hired for that purpose might be. Perhaps I was not pure of mind enough, not dedicated.

And yes, of course, this is all theory. Of course there’s no 1:1 transfer of thought patterns and subconscious neural formations. This isn’t Star Trek, after all. But it does get me thinking on the humanitarian, literature level.

If my heart, and apparently my mind, isn’t in the work, will those learning from me be shortchanged?

Science fraud is common and often ignored, report says

According to a report published in Nature, scientific fraud in academia is “surprisingly common” but is not often reported to university officials.

The survey of mainly biomedical students showed that about 9 percent had seen some kind of academic misconduct in the past three years; 37 percent of those breaches went unreported.

The authors surveyed 2,212 researchers and found 201 instances of possible academic misconduct over those three years. Among those, almost 60 percent were fabrication or falsification incidents, and 36 percent dealt with plagiarism.

The most guilty segments of academia? About a quarter of the incidents pointed the finger at postdoctoral fellows, though professors and senior scientists were right on their heels at about 22 percent.

Of course, the tricky question of whether a researcher should inform on their colleagues comes next. The easy answer is yes, but that does not take into account career-ending consequences that an accusation of misconduct can bring, as well as the damage done to friendships.

The reports authors, however, see things in a simpler light: “Fundamentally all explanations seem to share a common denominator — the failure to foster a culture of integrity” (981-82). They recommend clarifying for scientists how to report misconduct, protection for whistleblowers, more training for scientific mentors, and positive role modeling as ways to cut down on misconduct.

Image tampering increasingly common in scientific journals

The Federal Office of Research Integrity says that 44 percent of its cases between 2005 and 2006 involved image fraud. That’s up from 6 percent a decade ago.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription probably required), out of the 300 or so articles accepted each year by the Journal of Clinical Investigation, 10 to 20 may have been tampered with.

Some young researchers may not even think of image editing as being wrong, the CHE reports, considering the ease of image manipulation. However, experts contend that even changing a few pixels for clarity’s sake can alter the meaning of that image.

Online study kits irk one Florida professor

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus Blog reported today on a professor at the University of Florida who is upset that an online company, Einstein’s Notes, is selling notes and quiz answers from his wildlife ecology classes. The professor, Michael Moulton, and his textbook’s publisher have sued Einsten’s Notes, claiming that the company is violating copyright by selling study kits online.

In the CHE interview, Moulton said that grades in those classes have been going up since the study kits became available and that some students are using them as a means to avoid attending class. He said that other, harder-working students also buy the kits, feeling that they must have every academic advantage lest they lose their scholarships.

An added wrinkle is that sometimes the study kits are wrong, Moulton said, which costs students points on exams. The situation has forced Moulton to change the ways he makes class materials available online. In addition to recordings of his lectures, he now puts (correct) outlines of notes on the Web and has ceased giving out old quiz answers. Moulton told the CHE, “If they don’t want to come to class I can’t make them come, but I’ll be damned if I help [Einstein’s Notes] sell answers to questions if they don’t want to come.”

Most of the comments on that CHE blog post criticize Moulton, saying that if students can improve their grades simply by having the class notes then the course is poorly designed. While there is no doubt more to this story, I can see Moulton’s point. While the grade at the end of the course is what matters to most students, there is something deeper that most of them do not see — something that professors want them to see. That is: Academic work is hard work, and it’s about more than just the grade. It’s about the journey.

I’m inclined to think that many college students these days are in college because they think they have to be there (like another few years of high school). They are there because of the paycheck that will come from the degree they earn. The age-old essence of hard work and carefully learned study habits is over their heads. I applaud Moulton for defending that point of view. (Of course, these are the words of someone who once taught English 121 – College Writing to freshman, none of whom wanted to be there. Take that by way of disclaimer.)

Oooh, That Smell

An e-bookseller has taken the advice of a poll of college students and begun issuing “old book smell” scratch and sniff stickers with their online sales.

Reuters reports that a poll of 600 college students shows that one of the qualities they most enjoy about their physical books is the smell, whether old and musty or new and crisp.

That’s why CafeScribe will now sent students the smelly stickers after they download their purchases, the company said in a release Aug. 23.

“By placing these stickers on their computers they can give their e-books the same musty book smell they know and love from used textbooks – without any of the residual DNA you sometimes find stuck to the pages of used textbooks,” CafeScribe’s CEO Bryce Johnson said in the statement.

My girlfriend’s first reaction was, “That’s stupid,” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a marketing gimmick that’s going to drive a few people out there (like me) to write blog posts and spread the word a bit, but that’s about it.

I foresee this sticker thing going away rather quickly, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to curiosity. I want a few of those stickers, boy howdy.

An interesting thought for those out there who are still thinking about the borders between print and electronic text, though. Is this a sign that the computer is an inferior reading tool, that the computer must emulate the printed word in yet another way for it to be accepted by readers?