Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fish fun

Stanley Fish is often a riot. Here, in the NY Times the other day, he is provocative and right on - discussing student evaluations of professors. Now, there is in my view, an important role for student evaluations, but as one commentator says in response to Fish, "the popular is not necessarily the good." Popular teachers are not necessarily the best, which (again to qualify what needs qualifying) does not mean that unpopular is good either.

But the practice of evaluating faculty teaching based on student evaluations alone, which is (I'm afraid to say) the practice at Concordia, is not good. Faculty teaching should be evaluated to include assessment by senior faculty - who may be more immune to fashionable trends in teaching.


THIS popped up c/o Eric Mankiw's blog more recently from an interesting study that he links here:

Results show that there are statistically significant and sizable differences in student achievement across introductory course professors in both contemporaneous and follow‐on course achievement. However, our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value‐added but positively correlated with follow on course value‐added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow‐on related curriculum.

Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value‐added and negatively correlated with follow‐on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value‐added in follow‐on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

In other words (C/o Wapo)

Sarah Coakley Symposium

Here is an interesting list of abstracts for an Australian symposium dedicated to the thought of Sarah Coakley. I heard Sarah speak in Oxford on the science of cooperation and the theology of Incarnation a few weeks ago, and it was a tour de force, the moreso given its theological locus. She will also give the Gifford lectures in 2011.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Happened to B XVI?

Wonder what happened to the catholic church sex abuse scandal in the media? Well, you're not alone, and getreligion's got some interesting analysis with links to more here.

Short excerpt:

I think things died down because these reports tried to bring Benedict down. And when it didn’t work, folks lost interest.
Yup, that about sums it up. But read the last line of the article - that is the tragic part: there are other abuse victims who we don't know about and whose stories (and faith) we won't hear about.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Reading

Not my summer reading, but the summer reading of college and university students. In the U.S., a large number of post-secondary educational institutions mandate summer reading for those students who have been accepted into various programmes. This sounds like a great idea. And it is - except that the range of reading prescribed is disturbingly myopic.

A report from the U.S. National Association of Scholars puts it this way in a balanced report available here:

In principle, of course, a common reading program could be built on the basis of intellectually challenging works; books of widely‐recognized and lasting merit; books that are milestones of cultural achievement; books of undeniable historical importance; or books of profound artistry. We noted that five of the colleges out of the 290 chose works that plausibly fit at least one of these criteria: Frankenstein, Walden, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (two colleges), and The Communist Manifesto.

What of the selections by the 285 other colleges? The best we can say is that all (or almost all) the selected works have some merit.
Then a few lines later, it diagnoses the problem in terms of American culture's bias toward the present, a.k.a. what's in front of our noses...:
We suspect that the present‐ism that is so prevalent in the common readings reflects an underestimation of the students’ ability to discover connections between the past and the contemporary world. College ought to push students towards making such connections rather than assume that students won’t “get it.”
It makes for arresting reading and I'm sure that this report would be relevant for Canadian universities, at least those (few?) which have summer reading programmes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Big Shaggy

It's a terrible moniker, but it is nonetheless the term du jour in a wonderful column by David Brooks on the need, more than ever, for a humanities education. A most "useful" kind of education to have!

Here is my favorite part of what he has to say, because it touches on the ability to think analogously. Making good analogies is an effect of a creative, educated mind. Thinking analogously is not thinking that is careless or ad hoc. Analogies are a way of making the merely metaphorical more orderly. Unlike so many of the empirical claims common to the social and natural sciences, analogies are not governed by strict deductive or inductive inference. Here's Brooks:

Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison — Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.

Too much of what passes for a university education these days is being driven by the need to teach "skills" and to "train" students. We see this creeping trend even in Theology, especially in "biblical studies" where philology and language driven methods substitute for genuine inquiry into theological meaning and hermeneutically shaped purpose. As if data and method are all what really counts.

There is an almost "in-humane" aspect to this trend - as the increasing number of advocates for theological exegesis have readily diagnosed in regards to biblical studies.

But do read the whole thing here.