Provocative Words: MOOCs are toast?

But online learning is here to stay. Doug Guthrie of GWU says the real gold in them thare hills is big data, doesn’t exactly seem to me like a news flash, since indeed there is even a MOOC on big data in education. (Love the creepy illustration of “baby’s first MOOC”).

From the Forbes Online article:

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The cloud drives of yesteryear; they were–um–libraries.


MOOCs are not a transformative innovation that will remake academia. That honor belongs to a more disruptive and far-reaching innovation—Big Data and its application, and the adaptive education that results. The vast numbers of data sets that are collected daily, or Big Data, will likely revolutionize online learning by allowing educators to customize learning to individual students through adaptive learning.
I’m not suggesting that MOOCs will disappear completely. Instead, I think they’ll be forced to rewire their programming to become a more successful online enterprise and morph into an adaptive experience.

I don’t agree…they will morph, no doubt, but I think the scale is part of what is transformational, and what it will transform may well be our idea of what an individual course and a whole curriculum should be.

Beautiful Song: Some Other Time

A little tardy in posting, and lots of interesting news to ponder, including the Bradley Manning verdict. But instead, I’ll just share Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” from On The Town. I saw a charming production of the musical at Boston’s Lyric State a few months back, and was struck by how good the score is, particularly this ensemble number that could pass for Sondheim.

The shore leave for our heroes is over and they are bidding farewell to their girlfriends, with bittersweet backwards glances all around.

Here it is in a solo version by Jane Monheit.

Tad overproduced, yes. But mix a martini and seems just right.

And then this oddly affecting version from a Swedish jazz singer I didn’t know, Monica Zetterlund, accompanied by the great Bill Evans.

From a Swedish doc, subtitled in Swedish (I think) and with old Monica listening to young Monica. Probably a media theory term paper in their somewhere.

Finally, Evans by himself.

Selah. Happy Wednesday.

Reasonable Words: The War on Social Science

From a new (to me at least) web journal on academe called Symposium Magazine, Rick Wilson, a former National Science Foundation dissects some of Congress’ ire towards the social sciences.

From the piece:

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Auguste Comte, termed by many the father of sociology, and likely an unsuccessful NSF grantee were he alive today.

Many members of Congress still understand the importance of basic research. But more and more are questioning which sciences are legitimate, and the social sciences are a tempting target. It is difficult to predict spinoffs from basic social science research. After all, the social sciences do not produce patents; they seldom produce widgets; and the object of study is not about manipulating the physical world. Instead, social scientists study humans and their interactions. This has prompted lawmakers to question whether the social sciences are even a science. They assume that their experience gives them a “commonsense” understanding of the political world that is far more astute than the analysis of political scientists. In this view, pundits and polls are all it takes to elaborate on what everyone commonly knows.

The hallmark of science, however, is the systematic and rigorous investigation of phenomena. Social scientists observe patterns in the world, formulate theories that explain the underlying mechanisms for those patterns, and then proceed to systematically test those theories. The theories come in all varieties, ranging from detailed descriptions of a social phenomenon to abstract mathematical models that strip away the rich context of the social environment to focus on a specific mechanism. These studies show that many “commonsense” understandings of the social world are, in fact, incorrect. Yet lawmakers still continue to pursue policy solutions based on opinion rather than fact.

I suppose we could elect scientifically literate legislators, but that’s crazy talk. Wilson’s piece is long, but worth reading.

Silly Words: Egghead jokes from The Independent

My fave of a good group:

Modeling the head of a beer

“Is it solipsistic in here, or is it just me?”

Also introduced me to a hitherto unknown to me genre of jokes: about TCP/IP.

A TCP packet walks into a bar, and says to the barman: “Hello, I’d like a beer.” The barman replies: “Hello, you’d like a beer?” “Yes,” replies the TCP packet, “I’d like a beer.”

Reasonable Words: Play it Again

TLS has a review of a new entry in the “middle age journalist writes a book about playing the piano” genre. (Well, there are two, so maybe genre is over stating it).

The lead (whole review behind their paywall, sorry:

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 10.29.36 AMThe businessman Gilbert Kaplan decided to master the art of conducting for a single piece: he taught himself Mahler’s Second Symphony, and has become a world expert on the work. That was a quixotic undertaking, for if he could conduct one piece, why not another? Alan Rusbridger undertook a similarly limited task: during the few minutes he could find each day while being Editor of the Guardian, he taught himself to play Chopin’s Ballade No 1, Op 23. Unlike Kaplan as a conductor, Rusbridger was already a good amateur pianist, and was not starting from scratch; perhaps he was deliberately conceiving a literary as well as a musical conceit, so that the process of mastery could be turned into an approachable diary. The result is an absorbing and technically detailed book, in which the daily events of a newspaper during a tempestuous year play only a walk-on role. Rusbridger has to bring in Arnold Bennett to vouch for the importance of his leisure-time activity; he is inspired by regular chamber music playing with a group of upmarket intellectuals, and by the words of the critic Irving Wardle, who coins the delightful aphorism: “I am an excellent pianist. The only snag is that I don’t play very well”.

That Wardle bit describes me to a T! I didn’t know about Kaplan, but certainly do know the Ballads, which I am unequal to as a pianist, and will ever be so.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, mentioned at the end of Nicholas Kenyon’s lively review certain is equal to it and then some.

Poetic Words: Emily Dickinson

Finally a gentle, breezy July day in DC (rare commodity after the run of humid, sticky, hoped-for-rain-that-doesn’t come-days).

Emily Dickinson offers a tour of one of her Amherst summers:


A something in a summer’s day,
As slow her flambeaux burn away,
Which solemnizes me.

A something in a summer’s noon, —
An azure depth, a wordless tune,
Transcending ecstasy.

And still within a summer’s night
A something so transporting bright,
I clap my hands to see;

Then veil my too inspecting face,
Lest such a subtle, shimmering grace
Flutter too far for me.

The wizard-fingers never rest,
The purple brook within the breast
Still chafes its narrow bed;

Still rears the East her amber flag,
Guides still the sun along the crag
His caravan of red,

Like flowers that heard the tale of dews,
But never deemed the dripping prize
Awaited their low brows;

Or bees, that thought the summer’s name
Some rumor of delirium
No summer could for them;

Or Arctic creature, dimly stirred
By tropic hint, — some travelled bird
Imported to the wood;

Or wind’s bright signal to the ear,
Making that homely and severe,
Contented, known, before

The heaven unexpected came,
To lives that thought their worshipping
A too presumptuous psalm.



Provocative Words: Rebecca Solnit writes to Edward Snowden

To my earlier question, Snowden: Hero or Criminal?, Rebecca says hero, emphatically.

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 4.39.05 PMFrom Tom’s Dispatch:

Someday you may be regarded as a Mandela of sorts for the information age, or perhScreen Shot 2013-07-22 at 4.39.47 PMaps a John Brown, someone who refused to fit in, to bow down, to make a system work that shouldn’t work, that should explode. And perhaps we’re watching it explode.

She goes further than many would, but a viewpoint worth considering. For me it’s the “trust us it’s making you safer, but, of course, we can’t tell you just how,” argument that is so unsettling, and it sort of still gets a pass from parts of the left, right, and center.

Silly Words: Lorae Ipsae

Anybody who works in web editorial (or print editorial for that matter) has probably encountered Lorem Ipsum, the dummy text used to fill out design templates as a way of testing whether they work. For some odd reason, this is called “Greeking” even though it most assuredly is Latin.

As a writer/producer, my view is it’s a bad idea…as it doesn’t really give you much info about whether the content will work (length, headers, etc.) But sometimes you have to use it, and because it’s the web, if if you tired of the same old text there are a bunch of other versions you can play with. Courtesy of the drolly titled Tentacled Testing. Comments are theirs.

Here’s a collection of the various places to grab some blocks of text:

  • Lorem Ipsum Generator – There are many but I like this one. Great and easy options.
  • Bacon Ipsum – One of my favorites. Whimsical, meaty and work safe.
  • Beer Ipsum – Not as many options but beer is never wrong. Unless a client sees it.
  • Hipster Ipsum – I work in Brooklyn. I use this to amuse developers but I’m careful to keep it away from client’s eyes.
  • Gangsta Ipsum – No actual swear words but it’s not something I would use at work.
  • Fillerati – If you love novels this is the dummy text for you.
  • Samuel L. Jackson Ipsum – I don’t know where you work but I wouldn’t use this one on anything but I am so very happy it exists.

And although cupcakes’ cultural moment maybe be over, there is still a delightful Cupcake Ipsum generator.
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Big data coming to a screen near you!

Used to be the common locus for public anxiety over computers was their ability to beat us at chess.  That’s so 1997. Now we can be nervous about them, in the guise of big data,  determining what we see in movies.

To wit: a recent Marketplace piece on Epagogix, a big data firm that advises studios as well as outside investors in films.

EpagogiX analysts read a script and place a value on all of the plot points, everything from love scenes to car chases to quirky sidekicks. “And they score them according to a directory, in the way a teacher might score a test,” says Meaney.

(Do they use Atlas.Ti or nvivo? Are they sociologists who went to the dark side?)

Those scores are fed into the computer algorithm, which then calculates how much the movie will make at the box office, plus or minus about 10 percent. Epagogix will also recommend script changes to make a movie more marketable and profitable, like setting it in a different place. Or scaling back a character’s role, a recommendation that thrilled one studio executive.

Of course, the search for some “algorithmic solution” to a hit movie is an old one. And even EipagogiX must have an error margin. Could anybody have expected that a clunker like “Silver Linings Play Book” would be a hit?

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A formula from yesteryear, George DuMaurier’s blockbuster, Trilby, every Victorian cliché in the book. Now pretty much unreadable. But probably would have gotten a high score from the Epagogix of its era.

In truth, as somebody who fools with words for an avocation, and sometimes even a living, it doesn’t get me too agitated. Formula and schema have always been with us, what could you write with out them? Still, I suppose I would like any screenplay I do ever manage to write not to be “machine graded.”

Reasonable Words: Are the Humanities in Decline?

Yes, the question is always with us and is formulated to evoke yawns not insights.  But the “live vs. memorex” crowd at the Chronicle of Higher Ed has been tossing it around. Today there are some interesting words from Emory English prof Mark Bauerlein:

Silver’s charts are not proof of the humanities’ steady condition, but of its feeble standing. The evidence signifies a 20-year failure. More people go to college, but they don’t think higher education includes humanities coursework.

You can still read them yourself, I suppose. Maybe I should make a MOOC of the original Harvard Classics?

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