November 29, 2012

The Weekly Blab

Volume 7, Issue 14—November 29, 2012


Post Thanksgiving Blues

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  I took the whole week of Thanksgiving off (almost—I still had to come in briefly on Monday and did some work at home) and as is always the case with vacation, the week went by mighty fast!  Jill, Mark, and I mostly stuck around the immediate area, began our holiday shopping, and watched a lot of movies and old TV shows.

I’ve mentioned watching a lot of 3D movies in previous issues, so doesn’t it figure that I came to find out that one of our 3D TV’s settings was wrong.  Turns out that the setting had the 3D projection outward (what makes it look like something is popping out of the screen) directed hard to the right of the screen, meaning that I couldn’t see it for the most part—all I could see was much greater depth to the picture.  I had marked this down to my brain fighting off the 3D effect, and the fact that I couldn’t really see much pop-out when I saw 3D movies at the theater only added to this conceit.  When I reset the controls to center the projection outward—Wow!—suddenly Katy Perry is now singing a few feet in front of the TV, and the effects in Avatar were even more stunning.  Even bad movies are now interesting.  We watched “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” and though it is a pretty mindless, raunchy flick, I loved the 3D effects—hands (and other things I won’t mention) popping out of the screen, eggs being thrown and floating in midair in front of the TV, and so on.  Son Mark and I were laughing our heads off, and while wife Jill still complained about the raunchiness, I didn’t notice her walking away.

Exciting shopping doings included picking up DVD sets of the various Humphrey Bogart movies (24 films in a nice set) and Tracy & Hepburn movies (9 films and a documentary), getting a big Chava Alberstein CD set in the mail (she’s a great Israeli singer), and of course more 3D movies.

Good Stuff

Nothing is better than hearing good news, and this past week has brought us a boatload.  Here are some highlights:

It was just announced that the English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts department is the proud recipient of a $25,000 grant from the Vasser Wooley Foundation in support of our B.A. in New Media Arts program.  They plan on using the funds for a range of things over the next year or two, including a speaker series, software and equipment for a media arts studio, development of an online virtual gallery, and a campus art walk and reception.  Congratulations to our ETCMA faculty and to our Development Office colleagues who worked to develop this grant.

ETCMA was also recently featured in an article in the Marietta Daily Journal about a project entitled “High Without Walls”, in partnership with the High Museum in Atlanta.  Jim Werner, Mark Nunes, and 30 students collaborated with the High to find ways of reaching out to people 35 and younger, to interest them in the museum.  Methods were developed to make the gallery experience more participatory, giving the visitor a greater voice in what is shown, in two projects:  “Choices and Voices” and the “GPS Project”.  The projects were showcased at the museum on November 10.  So cool!

On November 15-17, eight students from our International Studies and Political Science programs participated in the 23rd Annual Model United Nations Conference in Atlanta.  This is big stuff, since more than 53 schools and 700 students participate in a simulation of UN activities.  The students represent a particular country, and have to take on roles as its diplomats, discuss and debate international issues (from the perspective of that country), and develop solutions to world problems.  SPSU’s team represented the West African nation of Burkina Faso at simulations of the General Assembly, Human Rights Council, International Atomic Energy Agency, Economic Commission for Africa, and UN Development Program.  Congratulations to Tom Rotnem (SIS), the advisor to our Model UN group, as well as the eight students (Shanneiqua Goodlow, Erin McGehee, Miranda Haeg, Teya Henry, Tyler Maran, Timothy Friedel, Jerry Floyd, and Tsvetelina Chahova).

On Saturday, November 17, I had the pleasure of seeing SPSU’s Men’s Soccer Team play Spring Arbor College (Michigan) in the first round of the NAIA’s national championship on our own field.  It was a beautiful day—sunny and warm, just perfect for watching a soccer match.  About 200 people were there to cheer the teams on, including a large contingent of Spring Arbor fans who had bussed down, and a group of former SPSU players who were there supporting the good guys.  The officiating was good, with the ref ignoring a number of minor incidents on both sides to let the play flow.  SPSU obliged by winning by a score of 3-1, qualifying them for the second round of 16, which was held in Montgomery, AL.

On Tuesday, SPSU won again, this time defeating Hastings College (Nebraska) by a score of 2-1, qualifying them for the elite 8.  Sadly, it ended there when we then faced #1 seed Lindsey Wilson College (Kentucky) and lost 3-1.  Lindsey Wilson’s Lebogang Moloto got a hat trick of all three of their goals, and scoring for SPSU was Emeka Maduka.  It was a great run, guys—and our congratulations to all on a fine season.  Now if only Chelsea could have done as well recently…


Online Doings Gather Steam and Cause Disruption

An interesting article appeared in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network recently, entitled “How Online Innovators Are Disrupting Education” by Jason Orgill and Douglas Hervey.  The article notes that online education is following the “S-Curve Effect”, where numbers increase slowly at first and then take off.   The 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reported that 5.6 million college students took at least one web-based course in Fall 2009, a 21% increase from the previous year.  In K-12 education, numbers are expected to rise from 3 million in 2009 to 14 million in 2014.

The article focused on how some K-12 classrooms are now using the Khan Academy’s online tutorial materials to “flip the classroom”—students get the lecture from the online materials, and use the classroom time to do problem solving and collaborative learning.  A particular junior high school class in Los Altos, California using this flipped technique was featured in an article called “Flipping the Classroom” in the Economist, which termed this change a “revolution”.

Both articles raised the issue of what this means to teachers, and paint teachers unions as folks who are trying to hold back progress to protect their own interests.  The Harvard Business Review Blog took the more benign view, saying that the unions’ views are misplaced.  It goes on to say that since Education Department data indicates that the best learning takes place through a blending of online and classroom experiences, “teachers can serve as professional coaches and content architects to help students progress in ways that they never could under most current models. Students display much more enthusiasm when they can self-direct their learning paths.

The Economist article was much more negative about teachers.  It noted that online instruction is not the only tool needed to improve education, the raising of teacher quality was equally important, “And crucial to having better teachers is evaluating them properly, hiring, firing and promoting on merit.”  Technology can play a role in evaluating teachers, “because, in essence, evaluation is an information problem.”  The article concludes: “The NEA and its supporters will eventually lose this fight [opposing evaluations], says Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think-tank that unions love to hate. “It will be considered fair game to collect the data” and to use them to get better teachers in America’s classrooms, she says.”

Hmm…what to make of this?  My own view is that online education is indeed a game-changer.  More and more students will have engaged in online instruction of one kind or another before coming to college, and more and more students will be using online instruction as their primary mode of taking courses while at college.  Given the rapidly improving quality of online learning materials (many of which are accessible for free), we’d be fools to not include them in our teaching toolkits.  Ignoring the online fraction of the higher education marketplace is no longer an option for any university that wants to stay viable.

On the other hand, the “flipped classroom” is hardly the revolution that the Economist makes it, certainly at the college level.  Assigning readings and giving notes for review at home, and using classroom time for problem solving, group work, and discussion has been done by faculty for decades if not longer, in all academic disciplines.  High quality online materials, podcasts, etc. are enhancements of this old and effective idea.  That this can allow faculty to detect gaps in understanding and to provide more individualized help to students is well known.

I won’t touch the issue of whether teachers unions are against teacher evaluation because they’re trying to protect themselves, or because the methods that have been proposed so far are so poorly conceived.  Only time and better evaluative methods will answer that question.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Since the BLAB is now a BLOG, so you can post them below.


Update on Gangnam Style—It’s Koger Style

For those who have been living under a rock, the most popular song ever on YouTube (800 million views) is called “Gangnam Style” and is by a South Korean singer named PSY (real name Park Jae-sang).  This song and dance has appeared literally everywhere, including in articles about its PSYchological impact (yeah, it was inevitable).  To quote one by Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team:

“Gangnam Style may be just a ton of fun and nothing more, but I believe it’s very nothingness is what makes it so wildly, historically popular, and that its popularity says something concerning about our collective psyche:  We want diversion.  We want anesthesia.  We wish not to be known for who we really are—to be looked in the eye or called out by name on our ideas and ideals.  We want—to take the metaphor a bit far—to ride horses that don’t even exist, through landscapes filled with pretty people we know nothing about, conveyed through life by fun and an infectious beat, to nowhere special.  We want to be drugged—whether by music, or technology, or Adderall—so that we are free of those pesky things called emotion.

If the Blues and Soul spoke to a people in pain, struggling to find love and freedom; and if Rock n’ Roll spoke to a generation ready for rebellion, then Gangnam Style speaks to a generation ready for nothing—a psychological vacuum, a flight from reality, a fear of being a human being with the capacity to feel for oneself and others, with ideas and ideals that really, truly matter.”

To which I say:  SHUT UP!  IT’S JUST A GOOFY SONG!

Anyway, loyal readers of the BLAB will recall (back on October 15) a mention of a craze at Canadian universities to make videos of their students dancing Gangnam style.  I ended the mention with the critically important question: “Hey Lunk, when can we expect to see the SPSU Hornet doing his version?”

Well, we still don’t have the Hornet doing the dance, but we have something better—SPSU’s Vice-President for Student and Enrollment Services Ron Koger dancing Gangnam style.  Click here to see it, and if ever a video deserved to go viral, this is it.

The BLAB—Taking Over the World

The statistics functions on WordPress tell me that the BLAB now has readers in three additional countries: Canada, India, and the Philippines.  Why?  I have no idea, but isn’t it cool to watch it spread?


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest dealt with the number “four” and it didn’t take long for Rich Halstead-Nussloch (IT) to come up with all five answers.  Great job, Rich.  Here are the correct responses:

  1. Frankie Valli sang with them.  The Four Seasons
  2. Baked into a pie when you Sing a Song of Sixpence.  Four and Twenty Blackbirds
  3. Goals articulated by FDR in his State of the Union speech on January 1941.  The Four Freedoms
  4. They are the harbingers of the Last Judgment.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  5. Jazz standard written by Jimmy Giuffre and played by the Woody Herman Orchestra, it also referred to the four sax players in the orchestra, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff.  The Four Brothers

This Week’s Trivia Challenge

This week’s trivia challenge focuses on the word “smoke”.  Hey—it’s not easy to come up with a new topic each week!  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Used in many ancient cultures as a form of long-distance communication.
  2. R&B singer with the Miracles, he became a vice president of Motown.
  3. A deceptive explanation.
  4. She messed around with a bloke named Smoky/she loved him though he was cokey.
  5. It’s found in Katmai National Park, Alaska.
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3 Responses to November 29, 2012

  1. Sonia T. says:

    I’m not going to be able to take Koger seriously in meetings anymore!

  2. Edward Dollar says:


    I have read Khan’s book that came out in October. Yes, the flipped classroom is new to many, however, his stated fundamentals that are worthy of note are “teaching to mastery” and “self paced study”. For me the real goal of education is what we learn, not graduation, so mastery can now be embraced with his techniques (or something similar) to reach that ultimate goal, thorough learning of each topic, before moving on to the next (using self paced study) and then to graduate. The student never hits the wall in advanced topics because of less than 100% on past material. (Even 95’s eventually catch up with you in, especially, math and the sciences).

    I am talking to someone in Instructional Design about how to define and incorporate his method of assessment. I think that is what is different for us. Khan uses his simple software to have the student work problems until they do 10 problems correct in a row, then they can move on. Could it be that easy for us? I don’t know. How do we incorporate grades, or do we?

    He also states that self paced study was impossible in the past, but is now because of the technology, (Youtube videos of from 10-15 minutes, our attention span.)

    I’m excited about the possibilities there, with Khan’s approach. And I think focusing on the “free” aspect is challenging. Its hard to argue with taking education to the “masses”. That is a game changer.

    Now put the two together, “free” and Khan’s approach… Its a brave new world.

    Edward Dollar

  3. Linda Whitenton says:

    There have been several articles in the general press also about Khan’s methods and software, promise and pitfall.

    I am not a faculty member (professional student might be more like it), so I cannot speak to, or for, the professional instructors and administrators here. But as a student I ask this: what happens to the person who does NOT (gasp, heresy!) do their best working in groups (!!!), or does NOT learn best by hashing and thrashing around with others as clueless (or more so) as they?

    What happens to the poor fool who actually does best when listening to a good-quality lecture, taking notes, then going someplace quiet, by themselves, to work homework problems, review notes, or (GASP, heresy!) read a book? (The paper kind, sorry.)

    Doomed indeed. Yes, I’m old. But there are younger people out there whose best learning styles, strengths and weaknesses are similar, and they often make good students and successful graduates. They will be lost in the shuffle, apparently.

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