Cory Leonard

Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

MOOCs Are Usefully Middlebrow | Chronicle Review

In tech on May 24, 2014 at 7:00 am

Anant Agarwal: Why massively open online courses (still) matter

The problem with MOOCs is _____? Get ready for a  backlash, since for the last few years we have endured the prophetic declarations about how online learning would solve all problems.

Maybe the real issue is that they essentially useful–but  in a particular way, short of being revolutionary:

It’s easy to dismiss middlebrow culture. William James visited the Chautauqua Institute in 1896 and wrote that “the middle-class paradise” was “too tame, this culture too second-rate, this goodness too uninspiring.” Virginia Woolf waxed vitriolic: “If any human being, woman, man, dog, cat, or half-crushed worm dares call me \’middlebrow\’ I will take my pen and stab him, dead.\” Intellectuals and academics have been whaling on middlebrow culture since Dwight Macdonald\’s 1960 essay \”Masscult and Midcult.\”

The ambivalence is understandable. There is a dumbing down that\’s intrinsic to middlebrow efforts. Real scholarship, criticism, or commentary is slow, detailed, and difficult, even in the hands of the clearest teacher or smoothest writer, and very few of us are those. Middlebrow culture offers lists, hooks, easy handles, formulas in the place of getting to know a text, working through a problem, mastering a difficult philosophic chain of reasoning.

Still, I can\’t find it in me to dismiss the middlebrow. I vividly recall my mother, an underemployed Ph.D., frantically preparing to give a presentation to a book club on War and Peace, or rushing home from school to hear my father\’s lectures on world literature broadcast on WSUI, the radio station of the University of Iowa. Limited though it may be, the middlebrow enterprise is as inspiring as it is troubling. It is democracy at its best and its worst.

via MOOCs Are Usefully Middlebrow – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

Should You Love Your Job? Expectations and the Rest of Your Life

In career on May 23, 2014 at 8:22 pm

 

An argument about unhappiness among recent college graduates–a particular subclass–and at best, an effort to explain how social media plays into misshapen expectations about post-collegiate life.  Also, a great implicit argument for a broad liberal education–as that will help you figure out what a good life is, after all.

Sure, some people from Lucy’s parents’ high school or college classes ended up more successful than her parents did.  And while they may have heard about some of it from time to time through the grapevine, for the most part they didn’t really know what was going on in too many other peoples’ careers.

Lucy, on the other hand, finds herself constantly taunted by a modern phenomenon: Facebook Image Crafting.

Social media creates a world for Lucy where A) what everyone else is doing is very out in the open, B) most people present an inflated version of their own existence, and C) the people who chime in the most about their careers are usually those whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while struggling people tend not to broadcast their situation.  This leaves Lucy feeling, incorrectly, like everyone else is doing really well, only adding to her misery:

via wait but why: Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.

 

Another aspect to this comes from unrealistic expectations about he working world.  One common message from higher education is to “do what you love”–but the reality experienced by alumni is much different.

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! Before succumbing to the intoxicating warmth of that promise, it’s critical to ask, “Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.

via Do what you love, love what you do: An omnipresent mantra that’s bad for work and workers..

Take Gordon Merino, waxing all philosophical about the topic.  He back up the issue to Kant, asking the big question of what work we should do, noting that “doing what you love” rarely plays into the career plan for society’s most important figures:

The universally recognized paragons of humanity — the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings — did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning. They did — like my father and some of those kids from town — what they felt they had to do.

Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires.

via Opionator | The Stone | A life beyond do what you love.

 

 

What You Learn in Your 40s | NYT

In career on May 20, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Hear ye middle agers.  Enjoy these classic lessons such as “you don’t have to like jazz,” “there are no grown-ups” and  “more about you is universal than not universal.”

The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 “the old age of youth.” In Paris, it’s when waiters start calling you “Madame” without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you’re still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read “Hamlet” and know how to cook leeks. Among my peers there’s a now-or-never mood: We still have time for a second act, but we’d better get moving on i

via What You Learn in Your 40s – NYTimes.com.

 

Creativity. (Really)

In ideas on May 18, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Creativity has officially attained buzzword status and it remains to be seen if teaching creativity has any lasting impact–but these attributes of “highly creative people” are intriguing: daydream, observe everything, make time for solitude, turn obstacles around, and people-watch, among others.

Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.

And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.

“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity,

via 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently.

Author Jonah Lehrer has documented some of the more recent research on creativity–and links them to how organizations are employing these insights.  One takeaway:  Hard work matters, not just long walks or hot showers.

“It would be wonderful if the recipe for all kinds of creativity was to take showers and play ping-pong and go on vacation and go for walks on the beach, but when you really talk to people in the creative business, they want to tell their romantic stories about the epiphanies but then if you push them, they say even that epiphany had to go through lots of edits on it and iterations and lots of hard work after we have the big idea. And that’s a big part of the creative process too, and it is not as fun. In fact, there’s evidence that it makes us melancholy and a little bit depressed. But it’s a crucial part in creating something interesting and worthwhile. If creativity were always easy or about these blinding flashes, Picasso would not be so famous.”

via Fostering Creativity and Imagination  in the Workplace | NPR

Critical Thinking = Necessary but not Sufficient

In career on May 17, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Here’s why college grads may be unprepared:

The skill at unmasking error, or simple intellectual one-upmanship, is not totally without value, but we should be wary of creating a class of self-satisfied debunkers — or, to use a currently fashionable word on campus, people who like to “trouble” ideas. In overdeveloping the capacity to show how texts, institutions or people fail to accomplish what they set out to do, we may be depriving students of the chance to learn as much as possible from what they study.

What we need are more students prepped like this:

Of course critical reflection is fundamental to teaching and scholarship, but fetishizing disbelief as a sign of intelligence has contributed to depleting our cultural resources. Creative work, in whatever field, depends upon commitment, the energy of participation and the ability to become absorbed in works of literature, art and science. That type of absorption is becoming an endangered species of cultural life, as our nonstop, increasingly fractured technological existence wears down our receptive capacities.
via Young Minds in Critical Condition – NYTimes.com.

Arthur Brooks on failure, Emerson, and the peril of being a “city doll”

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2014 at 3:20 am

Good advice to graduates (’tis the season):

In his magnificent 1841 essay “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson scorned elite college graduates — he called them “city dolls” — who wallowed in self-pity if they didn’t immediately land the prestigious job to which they felt entitled. Emerson contrasted them with the “sturdy lads” who hailed from remote civilizations — such as New Hampshire.
As Emerson wrote, “A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.”

Failures, false starts and midcourse corrections are part and parcel of a life well lived. Early setbacks may even prove to be a lucrative investment: A growing business literature shows that failures offer invaluable chances to learn and improve. Steven Rogers of Harvard University has written that the average entrepreneur fails almost four times before succeeding.
The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that “difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” Don’t meet obstacles with victimhood and self-pity. Welcome them, especially early in life, as opportunities to grow in resilience and virtue.

Architecture & the merits of being a generalist – The European

In career on May 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm

The architect Reinier de Graff is a hedgehog–without apology:

I think that is what the architect and the journalist have in common. In a context hugely dominated by specialization, the generalist gets very strange opportunities. There are very few people left to connect the dots. Being a laymen with curiosity, which both of them often are, becomes a virtue.

via Architecture & the merits of being a generalist – The European.

 

Thorny Exchanges on Campus Can Hold Educational Value | CHE

In politics on May 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Can any good come from a lecture that runs off the rails?

Advocates for facilitating constructive conversations about controversial subjects cite the educational benefits of the experience. Such arguments also tend to be made in support of liberal education and engagement on issues of diversity.

Like liberal education, civic learning is promoted as helping students wrestle with messy problems that have no clearly defined answers, a skill that will help them as voters when they evaluate policy trade-offs. It is also a skill that many employers say they value.

Participating in difficult dialogues about politics or values is thought to spur a healthful cognitive disjunction in students, which causes them to take a fresh look at their unexamined views—much the way that substantive conversations about race and ethnicity have been shown to improve critical-thinking skills.

via Thorny Exchanges on Campus Can Hold Educational Value – Teaching – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 

The Need to Know on College

In career, ideas on May 13, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Learning to think critically is necessary but not sufficient. A well-rounded, educated person must be able to engage wholly.  Its becomes a matter of absorption in compelling work, taking us to “openness and full “participation.”

Insufficient:

The skill at unmasking error, or simple intellectual one-upmanship, is not totally without value, but we should be wary of creating a class of self-satisfied debunkers — or, to use a currently fashionable word on campus, people who like to “trouble” ideas. In overdeveloping the capacity to show how texts, institutions or people fail to accomplish what they set out to do, we may be depriving students of the chance to learn as much as possible from what they study.

More like this:

Of course critical reflection is fundamental to teaching and scholarship, but fetishizing disbelief as a sign of intelligence has contributed to depleting our cultural resources. Creative work, in whatever field, depends upon commitment, the energy of participation and the ability to become absorbed in works of literature, art and science. That type of absorption is becoming an endangered species of cultural life, as our nonstop, increasingly fractured technological existence wears down our receptive capacities.

via Young Minds in Critical Condition – NYTimes.com.

Beauty and Power in Books & Ideas

In ideas on May 6, 2014 at 5:00 am

The life of the mind, a love of literature and ideas, and a society in crisis: themes from David Brooks on the connection between Isaiah Berlin and a momentous visit to Anna Akhmatova.

Berlin and Akhmatova were from a culture that assumed that, if you want to live a decent life, you have to possess a certain intellectual scope. You have to grapple with the big ideas and the big books that teach you how to experience life in all its richness and make subtle moral and emotional judgments.

Berlin and Akhmatova could experience that sort of life-altering conversation because they had done the reading. They were spiritually ambitious. They had the common language of literature, written by geniuses who understand us better than we understand ourselves.

via Love Story – NYTimes.com.