Archive for April, 2010

Some thoughts on Powerpoint

April 29, 2010

Though I use it (with very limited objectives), I often hate it. So here is a post to my liking – asking about this precise issue. A key observation:

But bullet points are not inherently visual. Text is not inherently visual. And treating text as picture doesn’t do justice to either.

The information limits of powerpoint are problematic as are my student’s tendency to think that as long as they get my slide content, they have mastered the material. I tell them otherwise, but their eyes tell them a different story. I don’t have a solution. Just periodic annoyance.

Advice for Administrators

April 29, 2010

Here’s some good advice for administrators (or those thinking about it). In the form of ten commandments, it begins with:

Commandment One: Thou shalt not waste faculty time.

More follows. Read and implement them all.

A Finals Warning

April 28, 2010

I think some of my students are worried about this.

via Instapundit

Finding Jesus at College

April 27, 2010

I’m a bit behind on reading our circulating print copies of The Chronicle of Higher Education, but an article from about a month ago was intriguing (subscription only, so you can only access the first paragraph or so). The basic thesis is “Jesus, it seems, does not go to community college. Surprisingly, he doesn’t go to Bible college, either. He attends Oxbridge and the Ivy League.”

The point is an interesting sociological conclusion. Students who are put in more “hostile” environments are encouraged to reinforce and strengthen their identity (“boundary-making procedures”) but in Bible colleges, because there is no challenge to their identities, they tend to become more liberal during their education. Again, these are only tendencies and not absolutes and there are no guarantees, but the results of these studies do raise some interesting questions and point to challenges for those of us in more narrow, relatively homogeneous  contexts. If you’re interested in this aspect of spiritual formation and Christian education, I’d find a copy to read.

Online bookseller celebrity

April 26, 2010

Here’s an article about someone (actually a competitor, when it gets right down to it!) who is a good model in the used book business – where I have my own small part. I’ve not mailed out checks, but I’ve sent off more than a few emails resulting in discounts or cancelled orders in my attempt to do the right thing with the books I sell. For those afraid to buy used books on Amazon, this might be evidence of my impression that most of the sellers do the right thing (and those who don’t become pretty obvious). So kudos!

General Education and Foreign Language

April 24, 2010

Here’s an interesting discussion of George Washington’s new General Education requirements, which appear to actively discourage foreign language study.  I’d like to make a couple of observations:

1. For a variety of reasons, this seems to be a move in the wrong direction. It’s not like American students aren’t already insular enough. Language studies are part of the longstanding core of the liberal arts, and I’m suspicious of ideas that we can simply disappear that with no consequences.

2. I’m also somewhat suspicious of the switch to “learning outcomes” rather than on subjects. Well, learning outcomes are good, but subjects are important. Some basic knowledge of history, science, mathematics, philosophy, economics and a few other things are really essential. A student who graduates from college with a certification that they can do critical thinking but without knowledge in any of those areas may very well be unable to actually make judgments or do any kind of critical thinking in these areas. In a sense, I’m concerned about the same issues that were raised by E. D. Hirsh for earlier education and the need for knowledge as background for skills. The problem should be less acute at the college level, but based on my students it may not be. And assessing these outcomes has its own potential for ambiguity or even bias.

3. From looking at several of the criteria’s descriptions, I wonder if this is more about an ideological shift than a pedagogical one. Take for example, global perspective:

A global perspectives course must teach students to analyze “the ways in which institutions, practices, and problems transcend national and regional boundaries or link those regions and boundaries together. A global perspective might include, but is not restricted to: the analysis of multi-national or multi-regional efforts to address global problems such as climate change or poverty; the examination of the global circulation of ideas and media images; the global impact of religions; or the impact of diasporic movements of peoples (past or present).”

While I can see some potentially worthwhile developments of these themes, I can also see the possibility of some rather weak and problematic ones. What if there is no global solution? What if the global solution was military (e.g., World War 2)? Will failures of such multi-lateral efforts be taken seriously (the format of the objective seems biased toward positive outcomes)?

At the end of the day, I’m a bit of an unrepentant liberal arts sort of guy. So maybe I’m just worried about that. But I do wonder where we go as we create increasingly amorphous standards that reflect an increasingly fragmented academy. Subject/content does matter.

Innovation, Online Education and the Future

April 24, 2010

Here’s another interesting exploration of what might happen in the future. The main point – what online education will become we do not yet know:

Rather, online teaching is going to make inroads in ways that no one fully notices now or can predict for the future. Unconventional students, from homeschoolers to housewives, are already using it. And while everyone notices the big for-profits, lurking in the sidelines are companies like, which started to offer courses much more cheaply than the University of Phoenix but couldn’t get accreditation. Straighterline is working with accredited universities now, but it is undoubtedly poised to sell directly to consumers if the situation is right.

Textbooks vs. Open Learning Materials

April 24, 2010

A thoughtful discussion of these two options – defending the role of textbooks. Worth perusing. Though I would think twice (probably four or five times) before I chose a $178 textbook for a course.

Librarians – the heroes!

April 24, 2010

Here’s a brief discussion of an interesting book on libraries and cyberlibrarians. Titled This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cyberlibrarians Can Save Us All looks to be an interesting take on libraries, technology and related issues. It’s on my “to read” list.

Education and Discrimination – a legal challenge

April 24, 2010

Here’s an interesting article pointing to future problems for religious schools that are dependent on government money. The college is being denied funds for a pharmacy school because of its restrictions on sexual practices (especially homosexuality). If it can happen in Kentucky, it will happen elsewhere.