fun with moocs: i “heart” stats

As many of you already know, I am leaving Notre Dame to become the provost at Marquette University in a couple of months.  I am really excited to get started there, but I have a couple of things to finish up here on the home front as well.  One of them is that I will be teaching Notre Dame’s first “MOOC”, which is supposed to be a super fun introduction to statistics.  Below is the trailer for the course, which I’m sure you’ll find entertaining.  It completely embodies my approach to teaching this course…You’ll have to decided, after watching it, if (a) Notre Dame will be glad to see me go, (b) anyone will learn anything from the course, or (c) if I will win an online-learning-Oscar (I’d call it a MOOCie) in the category of best overacting!

Oh, and you can sign up here if you want to actually take it!

fun with musical taste and identity

In my intro theory class yesterday I did an exercise using PollEverywhere to evoke associations between musical taste and identity. I played four musical pieces and asked the students to type free-text responses to “What kind of people like this song?”. Their responses were lots of fun, and I present them below in raw form for your enjoyment, interest, and comment.

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rapid response teaching

A young unarmed Black man was shot by a White police officer in Madison a week and a half ago (not that common an event here) and there have been a lot of protests and a lot of discussion here about this.We got feedback from our TAs that they wanted more support for dealing with these kinds of emotion-laden issues in the classroom. Partly just acknowledgement that many of them, as well as many of the students, had personal ties to the young man who was killed, or personal reasons to feel close to the matter. And partly advice and teaching resources for being ready to deal with both the immediate issue and the broader sociological context in class. I discussed the event and the protests and the broader context it in my class because it was relevant to the class topic and because I already knew a lot of the relevant background knowledge, but I did not do anything to share the information I had with anyone else. There was some agreement in our departmental discussion about a need for a system of rapid deployment of information from those instructors  with knowledge to those instructors who want knowledge (or who maybe need the knowledge whether they want it or not) about current events they may want to address in their classes. Or maybe the proactive accumulation of background information about issues that are likely to become “hot” that can be quickly accessed? Are there departments that have systems for this? We were tossing out ideas of using the discussion board features of desire2learn or a private blog.

Other important points from the discussion: Continue reading “rapid response teaching”

academic hot takes

A post over at orgtheory reminded me of this nice bit by Jeff Goodwin:

Hypothesis number one: For any book to become widely cited today, let alone to influence how people think, it must be reducible to a few general and easily grasped formulations. Many texts are “formulated,” furthermore, not by their authors, but by more or less officially designated readers (call them DRs), including reviewers for academic journals. Books that cannot be formulaically summarized by DRs, accurately or otherwise, are unlikely to generate much discussion, let alone change minds.

The process of “formulation” typically results in simplifications, half-truths, and outright errors, particularly when DRs are ill-disposed toward a particular text. The more complex the text, moreover, the more simplification is essential if the “formulation” that is a prerequisite of broad influence is to occur at all. Ensuing “discussions” and “debates” about a particular text often build upon these simplifications, half-truths, and errors. Before long, scholars can be “influenced” by these “debates,” or even participate in them without having read the text supposedly at issue; one need simply familiarize oneself with the formulaic “summaries” and “discussions” of it that DRs have produced.

Hypothesis number two: No book can claim to be “influential” today until large numbers of people who have not read it (or have not read beyond its introduction) have strong opinions about it. In fact, some of the most frequently cited books are, paradoxically, not very widely (or closely) read at all.

Hypothesis number three: A text that actually had to be carefully read by large numbers of people in order to be “understood” would never become “influential.”

Goodwin, Jeff. 1996. “How to Become a Dominant American Social Scientist: The Case of Theda Skocpol.” Contemporary Sociology  293-295.

what are we measuring when we measure behavior? elementary school edition

Organizations (and/or authority figures within organizations) are frequently called on to make consequential decisions about individuals. These decisions range from who to admit to a selective undergraduate institution or graduate program to which mortgage applications to accept to which prisoners should be paroled. The organizations and individuals have at their disposal varying kinds of information, which are perceived as being differently valuable in making those decisions. For example, in undergraduate admissions, we may know a student’s GPA, their SAT score, their class rank, the extracurriculars they participated in, and so on. Some schools may value SAT highly, others GPA, etc. In the past few decades, there has been a decided turn towards looking at behavioral information as particularly valuable across a variety of fields, including finance (the turn to behavioral credit scoring, which relies primarily on variables like past defaults and late payments) and criminal justice.
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prestige trumps quality in faculty hiring? not so fast

This article (Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore. “Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks”) has been making the rounds lately. The article uses a network method to extract prestige rankings from the set of graduate degrees and faculty hires. It shows “that faculty hiring follows a common and steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality.”

Blog posts, tweets, and stories about the article (e.g., this one from the Monkey Cage) have mostly picked up on the idea that the fact that prestigious departments generally hire Ph.D.s from other prestigious departments must mean that “academia is not a meritocracy.” While I would certainly not claim that academia is a meritocracy, I don’t think the Clauset et al. paper demonstrates that.

Continue reading “prestige trumps quality in faculty hiring? not so fast”