Georgia Tech Takes MOOCs to the Next Level: “Georgia Tech announced yesterday that it is teaming up with Udacity, one of the leading providers of massively open online education, to offer a full graduate program in computer science. For a mere $7,000 dollars—or 1/6 the cost of the equivalent program offered on campus—students who meet the prerequisites can fulfill the requirements of a master’s degree entirely through open courseware.
This is a big deal. As the Washington Post notes, even MOOC-friendly colleges like Stanford, Harvard, and San Jose State have been reluctant to actually grant credentials for their online courses, preferring to use them as a teaching aids rather than as the foundation of a program. There have been the usual concerns about quality control, as well as worries that an all-MOOC degree could dilute the value of Georgia Tech’s traditional degrees, but Georgia Tech claims it has taken these concerns into account.”
A Nation of Wimps | Psychology Today: “‘If you have an infant and the baby has gas, burping the baby is being a good parent. But when you have a 10-year-old who has metaphoric gas, you don’t have to burp him. You have to let him sit with it, try to figure out what to do about it. He then learns to tolerate moderate amounts of difficulty, and it’s not the end of the world.’”
“More testing does not equal more rigor. In my 17 years teaching middle school language arts, I’ve seen exactly the opposite. As high-stakes testing increased, real learning fell by the wayside. Authentic, creative writing has been replaced by 26-line formula essays. Imagination and elaboration are discouraged unless it can fit on one page. Classroom lessons are focused on getting students ready for the test, which steals instructional time away from teaching students how to actually write and communicate.
What else has been stolen? Novel studies, independent thinking, analytical discussions, and creative writing. Where my 2001 students would have read 10 novels by now, my current students have read one. Where my 2002 students would have written and peer-edited more than 15 creative writing pieces, my current students have completed zero. Instead of analyzing literature, students get sorted into testing rooms to take practice tests. School officials seem to think that testing kids — who have already lost significant instructional time to STAAR practice — will improve their performance. But as we say in Texas, weighing the pig does not make it fatter.
No, testing has not made kids smarter. It has, however, taught students that the test is all that matters. They ask, after STAAR testing is complete in April, why we go to school for another month and a half. For many students, school equals test prep, and once they’ve taken the test, they see no value in coming to school. These students don’t recognize that the true purpose of education is to learn new things, to expand their minds, to further their knowledge and understanding of the world. To them, school simply means narrow learning of skills that will appear on the test.”
Well, listening anyway. I just finished the Great Courses lecture series “The Art of Public Speaking” and am now staring on the lecture series “The Story of Human Language”. Erin and I are also watching the Great Courses series “The Lost Art of Cooking” every night. Great stuff!
And now for something non political. You’re welcome.
I saw this on Facebook this morning and it got me thinking about music, movie trailers, and communicating through art. Give this a few minutes. In fact, watch it once and don’t think about anything. Just watch it as you would any other trailer. Then watch it again and pay attention to the music.
Movie trailers are an art form in and of themselves. A good trailer can make or break a quarter-billion-dollar movie, making the lowest piece of dreck seem like a perfectly good way to blow ten bucks and two hours on a friday night. Similarly, a bad trailer can take the best piece of cinema and leave the audience with a deadly feeling of “meh” during the previews. This trailer accomplishes what it sets out to do perfectly. Posing spoken and unspoken questions in the mind of the viewer while building to an emotional climax that makes you feel better for having watched it.
First off, I really like what the the music isn’t. It’s not the typical BWAAAH… BWAAAHHHH that we’ve become accustomed to since Inception a few years ago. It doesn’t get in your face and say “I’M THE MUSIC!”. That works in some contexts and trailers, but this one called for a more reserved and traditional approach. From the quiet piano statement at the beginning with simple harmonies, the music is understated while still being regal. Then the light rhythm starts and we hear words of inspiration and aspiration. Slow build. Slow build. Good intercutting between the spoken words and the music. Good storytelling in a three minute format. The trailer is a mini-movie in itself. By the time the brass comes in full-tilt at the 2:00 mark we’re sold. Give us the bad guy, show us the digital FX. Explosions and mayhem. It becomes a big giant summer movie blockbuster but somehow seems like… more. Then we’re rounding back to the simple initial theme before ending with a punch. It’s a great trailer, and a fitting tribute to a fun standalone art form.
It is tough to connect with an audience when you have limited time and a small pallet. You need to tell a story, communicate emotions, manipulate (but in an honorable, allowable way), and leave the viewer feeling fulfilled and also expectant. It’s a difficult thing to do that often comes down to individual frames, beats, fractions of a second, and that ineffable thing that’s impossible to communicate but you know when it’s right.
I’m reminded of a story from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. A young theater director was having a hard time making a scene work with his actors in rehearsal. Not knowing what else to do, he called in a much more experienced director to watch the scene and make suggestions. After silently watching for several run throughs and getting a sense of things, the experienced director thought for a while and then pointed his finger at a prop and said “that towel should be yellow”. And that was it. After that, the scene worked. The audience loved it, and the show did well.
How did he do it? What was the mystical, magical thing that changed? I don’t know. And here’s the important part… the older director probably didn’t either. But somewhere in his brain was locked the accumulated experience of tens of thousands of hours laboriously adjusting, tweaking, massaging, and correcting performances until they felt right. Until something unknowable just clicked. And when asked to correct a scene for a younger director, that inner voice supplied an answer that didn’t make sense, but made the scene sing.
That’s what we do as artists. Whether it’s movie trailers, the written word, or Sing acts. Communicating with an audience through art is an act of constantly digging into the depths of experience and finding the yellow towel that makes something take flight. It reminds us that speaking through art is the hardest thing to accomplish consistently but also the one that touches us most deeply.
Can We Humans Build Cities That Don’t Freak Us Out?: “If you condensed all 200,000 years of humanity’s existence into a one hour-long video and then played it back, you would have to wait 58 minutes for people to build their first city-like habitat–a honeycomb-like mud-brick town of 5,000 in present-day Turkey. Half a minute later, you’d see another city, in Iraq, surge to 50,000 people, and 45 seconds after that, Egypt’s Alexandria would swell by another factor of ten, to 500,000. With just two seconds to go in the movie, London’s population would skyrocket to 5 million–another order of magnitude–just as all the rest of the developed world began to erupt in a frenzy of urbanization. During the last half of the last second, the developing world would follow. “
Today I got a catalog for The Great Courses in the mail. I made a post a few months ago about this company and have really wanted to get some of their (over 400!) courses. Normally the DVDs can be in the $800 range for a full college quality course taught by an award winning professor but that’s the full retail price and they’re usually much cheaper. Well, this catalog has many of courses for 80% off! Some of them are as cheap as $20. I’ve spent the night happily compiling a wish list of DVDs/CDs to buy or ask for as gifts. I loves me some learning.
It gets better. I figure that a good quality college level course on investing, European history, Old/New Testament, The Civil War, Comparative World Religions, or The Foundations of Western Civilization, taught by an expert and getting high reviews, would be worth a few bucks. Education, right? However, on a whim, and not expecting much, I went to my local library’s webpage and typed in “The Great Courses”.
One thing that separates the great innovators from everyone else is that they seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics. They are expert generalists. Their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.
As it turns out, there are two personality traits that are key for expert generalists: Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition.
Openness to Experience is one of the Big Five personality characteristics identified by psychologists. The Big Five are the characteristics that reflect the biggest differences between people in the way they act. Openness to Experience is the degree to which a person is willing to consider new ideas and opportunities. Some people enjoy the prospect of doing something new and thinking about new things. Other people prefer to stick with familiar ideas and activities.
As you might expect, high levels of Openness to Experience can sometimes be related to creativity. After all, being creative requires doing something that has not been done before. If you are not willing to do something new, then it’s hard to be creative.
I just got into a disagreement with someone who made an easily refutable point. I brought up what I thought was a good example, then backed it up with another one, then tied it in with an overall principle I thought was pretty well-reasoned and historically supported (not to mention held by a pretty large proportion of people). His response?
“That argument is ludicrous.” No rebuttal. No counter example. No acknowledgement that millions of people and centuries of behavior might have some merit. Just an emotional appeal and that oh-so-easy CYA word that so many people think shuts down disagreement and wins an argument. Talk to the hand!
If by “ludicrous” you mean “I can’t effectively refute it with facts so I will demean it with language” then he’s right.
I get so tired of arguing with people only to have them effectively stick their fingers in their ears and shout “no, YOU’RE a poopie head!” It makes me grateful for the friends in my life who honestly listen to other points of view and are open to changing their thinking.
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”