Monthly Archives: January 2006

Lateness

Post inspired by Mungowits End: Sorry I’m Late.

An interesting study would be to correlate a researcher’s output with the speed at which the researcher writes referee reports. I bet the late report writers are often the less productive researchers. Just a hunch, though.

(Can you tell whether I am often late on my reports or not?)

Resolutions

It is the end of the month. How am I doing with my New Year Resolutions?

  1. Well, I have one paper under review, so I am not meeting the three paper rule. But two are close (only counts in hand grenades, as the saying goes, though).
  2. I have actually speeded up writing reports and have even started turning some down (but I still have 6 to do. Painful.)
  3. No conferences yet, but I did agree to go to one later in the spring.
  4. Just get on with it. Doing that.
  5. Important topics. No time for new papers now. Who am I kidding-6 reports to write. But I am thinking in the correct direction.
  6. Refusing PhD students. Not yet-but we don’t have new students yet anyway.
  7. A project with a student: I have started moving on this one.
  8. More commenting. Yes.
  9. Enjoy my job. Yes. Writing about it here has helped with that. A lot.
  10. Seminars. Not yet.
  11. Weekly GTD. Yes.
  12. Less worried. Yes.
  13. Remember: Output not input. You betcha.

It has turned out to be valuable to have a semi-public record on this site.

Fairness?

Unknown Professor pointed out an article from Inside Higher Ed. (It’s offline as I write this so I cannot link. But I will fix it tomorrow.) The comments are fascinating.

The article is about fairness in grading. I am not sure that any system that assigns a numerical score to someone can be fair, or that I even know what fair means. But the system can be transparent, and clearly define what the students are supposed to be do. That seems to be the best you can ask for. And you cannot measure the students’ effort, only what they hand in and how they act in class.

The article did lead me to think about what grading is for.

Certification.
If the student can pass the course, the student should have demonstrated some basic competence in the material. For example, in a basic statistics class, the ability to explain what a confidence interval is, and compute a confidence interval in some specific cases. Certification is probably most binding for the pass/fail decision. But it is also important for other letter grades: a C student can do the minimum requirements and no more, a B student can do more than the minimum but cannot make the extra step, while an A student can make the extra step.

All that is important because one use of the grades is for future courses, future schools (like grad schools, law schools and so on) and employers to figure out information about the student. And perhaps because they will actually use the material. Grades during the course help the students understand how well they are following the material, too.

If we had no grades, would simply being accepted at a good school automatically guarantee better future prospects? That puts a big burden on admissions, no? I probably should think about that more carefully in the future. A bad grade also tells people in the future useful information about the student.

Motivation.
Some students are motivated by grades, so the grading scheme keeps them working. Sad in some ways, but they are people and respond to incentives. (This is why I am not a big fan of grading PhD students too much—they should be motivated anyway.) It also helps students recognize that outcomes at least partially depend on effort. For some small number of them, a useful lesson, even in college. A downside of motivation is the students who argue about everything. But I have found that many of them will work hard at the material if you make it clear that’s what is required.

There always are students who really get the material and so earn A’s. You see it in their test scores, homework, presentations, attendance, questions, concentration in class, and sometimes even eyes in class. Of course there are always marginal cases–A vs. B, B vs C, and so on. I try to err on the side of moving people up. Interestingly, in my courses there pretty much always is a gap in the grade distribution to make the cutoffs. I wonder how common that is?

The students who fail generally don’t show up to class, hand in their homework late (or try to ), and cannot even do the basic calculations in the course.

I am playing around with wordpress. I imported my site to vegreville.wordpress.com; I am going to cross-post for a few days and decide. WordPress is also free, looks nicer than blogger and has tags, but you cannot customize the site as much as blogger.

Any comments?

Fairness?

Unknown Professor pointed out an article from Inside Higher Ed. (It’s offline as I write this so I cannot link. But I will fix it tomorrow.) The comments are fascinating.

The article is about fairness in grading. I am not sure that any system that assigns a numerical score to someone can be fair, or that I even know what fair means. But the system can be transparent, and clearly define what the students are supposed to be do. That seems to be the best you can ask for. And you cannot measure the students’ effort, only what they hand in and how they act in class.

The article did lead me to think about what grading is for.

Certification.
If the student can pass the course, the student should have demonstrated some basic competence in the material. For example, in a basic statistics class, the ability to explain what a confidence interval is, and compute a confidence interval in some specific cases. Certification is probably most binding for the pass/fail decision. But it is also important for other letter grades: a C student can do the minimum requirements and no more, a B student can do more than the minimum but cannot make the extra step, while an A student can make the extra step.

All that is important because one use of the grades is for future courses, future schools (like grad schools, law schools and so on) and employers to figure out information about the student. And perhaps because they will actually use the material. Grades during the course help the students understand how well they are following the material, too.

If we had no grades, would simply being accepted at a good school automatically guarantee better future prospects? That puts a big burden on admissions, no? I probably should think about that more carefully in the future. A bad grade also tells people in the future useful information about the student.

Motivation.
Some students are motivated by grades, so the grading scheme keeps them working. Sad in some ways, but they are people and respond to incentives. (This is why I am not a big fan of grading PhD students too much—they should be motivated anyway.) It also helps students recognize that outcomes at least partially depend on effort. For some small number of them, a useful lesson, even in college. A downside of motivation is the students who argue about everything. But I have found that many of them will work hard at the material if you make it clear that’s what is required.

There always are students who really get the material and so earn A’s. You see it in their test scores, homework, presentations, attendance, questions, concentration in class, and sometimes even eyes in class. Of course there are always marginal cases–A vs. B, B vs C, and so on. I try to err on the side of moving people up. Interestingly, in my courses there pretty much always is a gap in the grade distribution to make the cutoffs. I wonder how common that is?

The students who fail generally don’t show up to class, hand in their homework late (or try to ), and cannot even do the basic calculations in the course.

I am playing around with wordpress. I imported my site to vegreville.wordpress.com; I am going to cross-post for a few days and decide. WordPress is also free, looks nicer than blogger and has tags, but you cannot customize the site as much as blogger.

Any comments?

A good quote

I have always liked Steven Soderbergh’s moves and Guided by Voices’ music. Today’s NY Times had a nice article about the collaboration between Robert Pollard and Steven Soderbergh: NY Times (I suspect that the link will go away thanks to anonymous, a permanent link). Anyway, I think this quote is a good one to keep in mind for writing papers:

<snip>

“He has that magpie eclecticism that I really respond to and appreciate,” Mr. Soderbergh said. “He and I are alike in that we’re just not very precious. We both feel like, you just do it and it shouldn’t be a big hassle.”

<snip>

In my experience, the PhD students who view their thesis as a really important project often get stuck. And that’s also true in my own research: if it’s too important, I don’t write anything because it’s not good enough. If I obsess over perfection, no output. Nothing to revise. Far better to give it my best shot, submit it, and then get on to the next thing. Sometimes you lose. But keep moving.

The work has to be good; I’m not saying do like those students whose homework is done the night before the due date, written in a spiral notebook, ripped out, and then handed in (often unstapled).

I guess that’s why I admire Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Robert Pollard, Steven Sonderberg, Woody Allen, Paul Westerberg, Los Lobos, Yo-Yo Ma, and many, many other artists—they keep going. They finish the project in reasonable time, and then get on with it. Sometimes the project turns out well, sometimes not. But they keep going. It helps that they are talented, but I suspect that for Bob Dylan, a song is a song. Finish it, and then write the next one.

Why my slides usually suck

even though I spend a lot of time on them.

okdork is getting attention (from rob poitras). I found him through a comment on signal v. noise.

<snip>

I am in my biz, gov, & society class, the teacher is reading directly off the power point slides so I am catching up on my rss reader and browsing the net on my ibook.

<snip>

Based on the site profile, he wants to learn, too. He is giving more useful feedback than going to http://www.ratemyprofessor.com.

It’s dull when there is too much on the slides for me at the talks I go to. I cannot read and listen at the same time—-so I read the slides. But that’s faster than the speaker can talk, so I have time to doodle, or edit hardcopies of my own paper. Why should students be any different?

I am probably the last one to figure this out. Oh well.

Mechanical pencils

I wonder how many non-academics love mechanical pencils (and really all things stationary) as much as I do? When I was in grad school, I was obsessed with the $25.00 mechanical pencil. One of the first things I did when I got a job was to get a really fancy mechanical pencil. Even now, I could happily window shop for them. I have also become obsessed with the fisher space pen, and the perfect pad.