Later On

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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

This course takes a broad look at failure – and what we can all learn when it occurs

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Robert Kunzman, Professor of Curriculum Studies and Philosophy of Education, Indiana University, writes in The Conversation:

Unusual Courses is an occasional series from The Conversation U.S. highlighting unconventional approaches to teaching.

Title of course:

“Failure, and How We Can Learn from It”

What prompted the idea for the course?

When I was a high school teacher, I found plenty of joy and fulfillment in my work. But I also felt the sting of failure: from a student who remained disengaged throughout the semester, or even just from a lesson that went off the rails. Now I prepare aspiring K-12 teachers to navigate that messy reality themselves, and I’m struck by how tough it can be for them to develop the resilience necessary to work so hard and yet inevitably fall short of their goals.

So I began to wonder how other fields and professions might view failure. What resources do they draw upon? What common threads might exist that could help future teachers learn from failure more effectively?

What does the course explore?

We explore the role of failure in a wide range of fields, and how what counts as failure varies as well. A bridge collapsing is pretty clear, and maybe a business that goes bankrupt. But what about a team losing or a patient dying? We also consider what mechanisms and strategies these fields employ in responding to failure, and the ways in which they see failure as part of the learning and achievement process.

What’s a critical lesson from the course?

As the semester unfolds, students begin to recognize that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2022 at 8:35 pm

The story behind the Equality v. Equity meme

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On the left three children standing on boxes to see over the fence to watch a baseball game. The tallest boy on a box stands way above the fence, but the shortest, even standing on a box, cannot see over the fence. On the right, the tallest boy no longer has a box but can still see over the fence, and his box, added to the box the shortest boy already had, enables the shortest boy to now see over the fence.

Craig Froehle, who created the idea behind the meme above, has an interesting article in Medium on how the idea came about. He wanted to shift the focus from equality of aid to equality of outcomes.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2022 at 1:55 pm

The shrinking future of college

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Kevin Carey reports in Vox about an abrupt decline. From the article:

. . . In four years, the number of students graduating from high schools across the country will begin a sudden and precipitous decline, due to a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession. Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period. But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping, and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it “the enrollment cliff.”

Among the small number of elite colleges and research universities — think the Princetons and the Penn States — the cliff will be no big deal. These institutions have their pick of applicants and can easily keep classes full.

For everyone else, the consequences could be dire. In some places, the crisis has already begun. College enrollment began slowly receding after the millennial enrollment wave peaked in 2010, particularly in regions that were already experiencing below-average birth rates while simultaneously losing population to out-migration. Starved of students and the tuition revenue they bring, small private colleges in New England have begun to blink off the map. Regional public universities like Ship are enduring painful layoffs and consolidation.

The timing is terrible. Trade policy, de-unionization, corporate consolidation, and substance abuse have already ravaged countless communities, particularly in the post-industrial Northeast and Midwest. In many cases, colleges have been one of the only places that provide good jobs in their communities, offer educational opportunities for locals, and have strong enough roots to stay planted. The enrollment cliff means they might soon dry up and blow away.

This trend will accelerate the winner-take-all dynamic of geographic consolidation that is already upending American politics. College-educated Democrats will increasingly congregate in cities and coastal areas, leaving people without degrees in rural areas and towns. For students who attend less-selective colleges and universities near where they grew up — that is, most college students — the enrollment cliff means fewer options for going to college in person, or none at all.

The empty factories and abandoned shopping malls littering the American landscape may soon be joined by ghost colleges, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2022 at 4:05 pm

Medical School Culinary Medicine Programs Grow Despite Limited Funding

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About time, one must say. Kelly Ragan writes in Medscape:

Farshad Fani Marvasti, MD, MPH, is part of a growing movement to fundamentally shift medical education to include training on how to cook healthy meals.

The way he sees it, the stakes couldn’t be higher. He believes doctors need to see food as medicine to be able to stem the tide of chronic disease.

About 6 in 10 adults in the United States live with chronic diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, costing $4.1 trillion in annual healthcare costs. Adult obesity rates are rising, as are obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroketype 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

To turn the tide, Marvasti created a culinary medicine program in 2020 in collaboration with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and local chefs.

Marvasti, who is board certified in family medicine, graduated from the University of Arizona, Phoenix, where he serves as the director of the medical school’s Culinary Medicine Program.

The program offers an elective course for third- and fourth-year medical students, which introduces the evidence-based field of culinary medicine. Marvasti’s goal is for the course to teach students how to use this science and the joy of cooking to improve long-term health outcomes for their patients.

As part of Marvasti’s program, students learn cooking fundamentals through chef demonstrations and hands-on practice — to teach students how food can be used to prevent and treat many chronic diseases.

One of the dishes students learn to make includes a quinoa salad made with cucumber, onion, bell peppers, corn, cherry tomatoes, beans, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice. Another recipe includes a healthier take on dessert: Dark chocolate mousse made with three large, ripe avocados, dark chocolate powder, three tablespoons of agave or maple syrup, coconut cream, nondairy milk, salt, and vanilla. Marvasti and his team are set to build out the existing program to develop additional resources for medically underserved and rural communities in Arizona, according to a statement from the university. These plans will be funded by a $750,000 grant from Novo Nordisk.

“We’re going to develop an open education curriculum to share, so . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

19 November 2022 at 12:55 pm

Measles outbreak jumps to 7 Ohio daycares, 1 school—all with unvaccinated kids

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An article by Beth Mole in Ars Technica about children paying the price of their parents’ stubborn ignorance. The article begins:

A measles outbreak in Ohio has swiftly expanded, spreading to seven childcare facilities and one school, all with unvaccinated children, according to local health officials. The outbreak highlights the risk of the highly contagious but vaccine-preventable disease mushrooming amid slipping vaccination rates. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

Measles, a virus that spreads via coughing, talking, or simply being in the same room with someone, will infect an estimated 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed. Once infected, symptoms generally show up seven to 14 days later, starting with a high fever that can spike above 104° F, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes. A few days after that, a telltale rash develops.

In the decade before a measles vaccine became available, the CDC estimates that the virus infected 3 to 4 million people in the US each year, killing 400 to 500, hospitalizing 48,000, and causing encephalitis (swelling of the brain) in 1,000.

Measles was declared eliminated from the US in 2000, meaning that—thanks to vaccination—it no longer spreads continuously in the country. But it has not been eradicated worldwide and thus is still brought into the country from time to time by travelers, posing a constant threat of outbreaks in any areas with low vaccination rates. If measles is brought in and continues to spread for more than 12 months, the US will lose its measles elimination status, which it nearly lost in 2019.

A highly effective and safe vaccine against measles has been around for decades. Measles is a bad disease to get — not only does it have its own dangers, it does long-term damage to the immune system, a danger unmentioned in the article.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2022 at 10:15 am

“Bai lan” (Let it rot) — Youth giving up in China

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Interesting video.

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2022 at 7:39 pm

Are divisive US politics repelling international early-career scientists?

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People are viewing the US in a new light. Virginia Gewin writes in Nature:

For the past five decades, the United States has been a top destination for international early-career researchers to do their training in a PhD or postdoctoral post. Since the 1960s, post-cold-war US diplomatic policies have aimed to attract foreign scholars, especially those in then-budding democracies (M. O’Mara Soc. Sci. Hist. 36, 583–615; 2012). After a steady increase, numbers peaked in 2016, when more than one million students — undergraduate and graduate — were enrolled to study in the United States. The number of international students then began to decline slowly: graduate-student numbers dipped by 1.3%, to 377,943, in 2018, according to the Institute of International Education, a student-exchange non-profit organization based in New York City. During the 2020–21 academic year, the first of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number sank by 12.1%, to 329,272 graduate students. That same year, numbers of international scholars in the United States (specifically, postdocs and visiting researchers) plummeted by 31%, from 123,508 to 85,528.

It’s unclear whether those numbers will recover, or how long that might take. In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that the number of international-student F-1 visas issued to Chinese students, who make up the overwhelming majority of people coming to attend US universities, had declined by more than 50% in the first 6 months of 2022 compared with the same period in 2019. Furthermore, a September 2021 poll for the U.S.–China Perception Monitor found that 62% of Chinese respondents had a view of the United States that was either “very unfavorable” or “unfavorable”.

Universities in countries such as Australia and Canada, which are increasingly reliant on foreign-student tuition fees, also saw COVID-19-related declines in the number of international students in 2020. Australia has struggled to re-establish an international-student pipeline following its stringent COVID-19 border closure. And although the number of study-permit holders in Canada increased to more than 750,000 international students for the 2022–23 academic year, applicants from Africa have complained of excessive visa-application delays. Last month, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada stated that more needs to be done to stamp out internal racism against African applicants.

The reasons for international-student career decisions are . . .

Continue reading.

The loss of graduate students leads to a loss in practitioners. The US doesn’t face so much a brain drain as a shortage of brain replenishment.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2022 at 1:18 pm

Accidents in US virus labs

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According to all that we have learned, and from what leading virologists have concluded, the Covid virus arose in the wild. But certain virus labs deserve close attention, and in the US accidents at several virus labs — and gain of function research — deserve close inspection and, in some cases, better protocols.

For example, as discussed in the first part of this series published in The Intercept, when a lab employee is exposed to a dangerous virus, being quarantined at home seems inadequte.

The whole series is worth reading:

PART 1: Student Infected With Debilitating Virus in Undisclosed Biolab Accident
PART 2: Accident With 1918 Pandemic Virus Raises Questions About Pathogen Research
PART 3: Lab That Created Risky Avian Flu Had “Unacceptable” Biosafety Protocols

Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2022 at 7:06 pm

“How communism got me into reading as a child”

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Claudia Befu writes at Story Voyager:

One of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood is bulging into the house on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and asking my mother:

‘Did it start?’

On the days when the answer was ‘It already finished a long time ago’ I started crying.

‘Why didn’t you call me?’

‘You were playing.’

‘But I wanted to see the cartoon!’

I grew up in communism, and we only had cartoons on TV on Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm to 1:05 pm. Usually, it was one episode of ‘Tom and Jerry’, ‘Bolek a Lolek’, or some other party-approved cartoon.

As I grew up and started to play outdoors with other kids from the neighborhood, I usually missed the weekly episodes, and I was devastated.

The advantage of growing up with communist TV 📺 

I am already on day 38 of my 100-day TV detox challenge, and I can’t believe how time is flying. Things have been very busy at work lately, and this newsletter filled up the gap left by not watching Netflix in my free time. I also started to meet more people and generally spend quality time with my husband.

Aside from a couple of documentaries and some TikTok and YouTube videos, I haven’t watched anything during this time.

Between weeks two and four, I automatically thought about watching a series or a movie whenever there was some unstructured time. I am surprised at how deeply ingrained watching entertainment is in my psyche. But about one week ago, my brain stopped craving for series, and now I don’t think about it as often.

Besides, I can’t watch anything right now. I feel physically ill every time I think of starting a Netflix series.

How did I get to this?

This question made me go down the rabbit hole on the TV detox topic and look at my life through the TV lens.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things is that I grew up watching very little TV.

It wasn’t by choice but by design. The communist TV diet was rationed like our food, hot water and electricity.

For example, a family of four could only buy one litter of cooking oil and half a kilogram of sugar per month. This was enough fat and sugar for the whole family for an entire month.

Hot water was dispensed twice weekly because showering every other day was more than enough. And electricity was cut for some hours during the night since everyone was sleeping anyway.

We had around seven to nine hours of TV every weekend and about two hours in the evening during the week. Of course, some TV entertainment was allowed on weekends, such as 5 minutes of cartoons or party-approved Romanian film productions.

But during the week, the two hours of TV were filled with news about the dictator.

Almost every evening, we would watch Nicolae Ceausescu pour cement into the foundation of yet another communist building while his wife observed him with a watchful eye. When he wasn’t pouring cement, he would walk through a laboratory wearing a white doctor’s coat or a factory wearing a safety helmet.

His wife, Elena Ceausescu, was always next to him, featuring her version of the ‘Thatch’ helmet hair and her Channel knock off suits made in Romania.

Left without much choice, I was gorging on the Encyclopaedia TV program that was running once a week, inspiring me from a very young age to become an astronaut. But, as you can conclude, the inspiration wasn’t strong enough.

This strict TV diet also had its advantages. As I grew up, my parents read a lot to us, and after I learned how to read at the ripe age of six, I started reading books myself, and I didn’t stop for the next six years.

Everyone who knew me during that time remembers me holding a book in my hand. Or a stash of books if they saw me on my way back from the library. Without a TV to distract me, I fully embraced the magic of books and developed a lifelong love for reading.

Do you doubt I read so much as a child just because I didn’t have anything age-appropriate to watch on TV?

Let me introduce you to the next chapter of my life.

The glory of capitalist TV

In the autumn of 1989, about three years after I started reading books, communism fell, and suddenly we had twelve hours of TV programs every day.

I remember watching my first . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2022 at 3:25 pm

Reinvent the wheel

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Learn by doing and figuring things out. It’s highly effective and efficient in terms of learning, though slow and painful compared to just following directions that are based on the experience of others — with that approach, you are told what to do, but you don’t know why. Not knowing why results in the “knowledge” being shallow and difficult to remember.

Probably the best approach is to spend time and effort trying to work out how to do it and thus learn what problems are encountered (and figure out some possible solutions). Then, and only then, look at the directions. With that approach, your mind is hungry for knowledge and is prepared to understand the “why” behind the directions. (This is the approach I advocate when using The Reader Over Your Shoulder to learn how to write clearly. It’s also how back in the day I advised students to study Euclid’s Elements: read the statement of the theorem and then, without reading further, spend at least 10-15 minutes trying on your own to prove the theorem. Then, whether you succeed or fail, you will totally absorb Euclid’s proof because you have a practical understanding of the context and issues.

Étienne Fortier-Dubois has an excellent essay at Atlas of Wonders and Monsters that elegantly describes this approach. He writes:

Reinvent the wheel. I mean it, literally. Build a small toy, and make mobile with some spinning parts, but without using pre-made wheels. What will you use? Look around the house, or to be more authentic still, go walk in a forest. Take stock of what the natural world offers you. Perhaps you could take this round-ish stone and polish it to make it evenly circular. Or you could cut a slice of a small tree. Several, in fact, since you’ll probably need several wheels. How many? Do they need to be all of the same size? How will you attach them together? Will you allow the wheels to turn, and if so, how will that be controlled?

The Ackermann steering design (source)

Reinvent the wheel, because it’s less trivial than it sounds. There are many challenges to consider! For instance, how to steer: you want the wheels to turn at different angle, instead of being both on a fixed axle.

If you reinvent the wheel from scratch, you probably won’t (and shouldn’t) think about such things from the beginning. You’ll solve problems that have had solutions for centuries or millennia. Is that bad? Shouldn’t you begin by reading a book about wheels, maybe? Get a degree in wheel engineering? Make sure you’re all caught up with the current state of wheel knowledge before you begin to presume you can productively reinvent it?

Well, it depends. Are you more likely to reinvent the wheel if you read that book or get that degree? Or is it more likely to drain out all the excitement and thrill of thinking about wheel design right now?

You should reinvent the wheel because it’s fun. Doing things directly, instead of reading or listening about them, is more satisfying. It gives you something to be proud of. It can be frustrating, the same way that working on a tough puzzle can be, but the elation you feel once you have solved your problem will make it worth it — far more than reading a textbook ever could.

You should reinvent the wheel because it’s a good way to learn, too. This is not a separate point from the “fun” one: the best way to learn anything is to have fun with it! Plus, practical experience will teach you a myriad of small details that a book or instructor might miss (or that you might miss because the boredom made you distracted as you were trying to learn).

These are reasons for you, an individual, to reinvent the wheel. Should we, as a society, want you to reinvent the wheel? Wouldn’t there be a more productive use of your time?

I say . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2022 at 12:49 pm

Ideologues will smother alternative ideas

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Judd Legum writes at Popular Information:

In 2018, Dan Colson, a Professor of English at Emporia State University (ESU) in Kansas, published an article titled, “Teaching Radically with Koch Money.” In the piece, Colson details how he was fighting ESU’s “embrace of right-wing, free-market ‘investments’ in higher education.” Colson shares his experience using a grant from ESU’s “Koch Center for Leadership and Ethics” to “work directly against the Center’s agenda.”

Colson could feel secure writing such a provocative article because he was a tenured professor. Academic tenure is a foundational component of higher education and the free exchange of ideas on campus. It gives professors like Colson the ability to express unpopular opinions without fear of retribution. A tenured professor generally cannot be terminated except under extraordinary circumstances, such as professional misconduct.

But on September 15, Colson was told to report to an off-campus, ESU-owned building. When he arrived, an ESU administrator read from a script. Colson, who had taught at ESU for 11 years, learned he was being terminated.

“It looks like the right-wing fantasy of what happens when you put ideologues in charge of a university,” Colson told Popular Information.

Colson was one of 33 employees, most tenured faculty, that were terminated from ESU last month. The firings were made possible through a state-wide policy change introduced in early 2021 by the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR), the board that oversees Kansas’ public colleges and universities. The other five public universities in Kansas declined to violate the principles of tenure to cut costs.

Gwen Larson, a spokesperson for ESU, told Popular Information that the firing decisions “were not in any way politically motivated” and said that the university “supports the right for free expression by our faculty, staff, and students.” Colson and other faculty members interviewed by Popular Information disagreed.

ESU receives extensive funding from non-profit groups controlled by Charles Koch, the CEO of Koch Industries. For decades, Koch has been a critic of liberal arts education and the tenure system. Still, for nearly two years, ESU did not submit a plan under the KBOR policy to fire tenured faculty.

But then ESU appointed a former Koch Industries executive as its new president. Suddenly, there was a willing executioner. Colson and other faculty who were let go told Popular Information that they believe they were victims of an ideological purge, cast aside for failing to conform to the university’s political agenda.

And what happened at ESU could be a harbinger of what’s to come at colleges and universities across the country.

Why the right-wing hates tenure

In the United States, tenure has long served as a safeguard for academic freedom. Tenure prevents professors from being fired for discussing controversial ideas. And it’s the tenure system that insulates faculty from undue influence by university donors, administrators, and politicians.

That’s exactly why tenure has become a frequent target of right-wing lawmakers and pundits.

In April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) ” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2022 at 5:27 pm

College in prison is leading professors to rethink how they teach

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Mneesha Gellman, Associate Professor of Political Science at Emerson College, writes in The Conversation:

When it comes to education in prison, policy and research often focus on how it benefits society or improves the life circumstances of those who are serving time.

But as I point out in my new edited volume, “Education Behind the Wall: Why and How We Teach College in Prison,” education in prison is doing more than changing the lives of those who have been locked up as punishment for crimes – it is also changing the lives of those doing the teaching.

As director of a college program in prisons and as a researcher and professor who teaches in both colleges and prisons, I know that the experience of teaching in a correctional facility makes educators question and reexamine much of what we do.

My book collects experiences of college professors who teach in prison. A common thread is that we all went into education behind the wall thinking about ourselves to some extent as experts but have since critically reflected on what we know through interactions with incarcerated students and the institutions that hold them.

Rewriting the book

One semester in 2020, I volunteered to tutor for a class on something that occurs frequently behind prison walls: conflict and negotiation. The class featured two books that are considered essential to the field. The first is “Interpersonal Conflict,” a 2014 text that invites readers to reflect on how conflict has played out in their personal lives. The second is “Getting to Yes,” a 2011 text described by its publisher as a “universally applicable method for negotiating personal and professional disputes without getting angry – or getting taken.”

“You know, I know these are very important books and all, but this isn’t really what would work in here,” one incarcerated student said after a few class meetings, gesturing to the prison walls. “Here, you can’t talk openly about your feelings like the authors want us to, and the rules of relating to people are different.”

I responded that his observation was astute, and that knowing both sets of rules – and how to switch between them – could be profoundly useful. For example, I theorized, I imagine he behaves differently during yard time than on a phone call with a family member on the outside. If the textbooks about conflict on the outside didn’t adequately address how to handle conflict in prison, I suggested he write an equivalent book for conflict negotiation in prison.

“Maybe I should,” he chuckled, and looked around to his classmates. “Maybe we should.”

The experience showed me how even though there are textbooks that are considered “universal,” that universality may not always extend itself to correctional institutions.

A new understanding of status

As a full professor and chair of the sociology department at Clark University, a small, private university in Worcester, Massachusetts, Shelly Tenenbaum is used to being accorded a certain degree of respect for her professional accomplishments and credentials. But none of those things mattered once she passed through the gates of medium-security prisons for men located in Massachusetts.

“Status that I might have as a scholar, full professor, department chair … is rendered invisible as we enter prison,” Tenenbaum writes. When passing through security, “I have been abruptly instructed to obey commands and my questions are ignored.”

Encounters with correctional officers are frequently unnerving for educators, particularly at the entrance gates.

“I find myself in the position of needing to second-guess what I may (or may not) have done wrong and defer to people who are considerably younger than I am,” Tenenbaum continues. “There were times that I followed rules only to be scolded when the rules appeared to be differently interpreted from one day to the next. To be in the subordinate role of a power dynamic is a humbling experience. … It takes having expectations defied to realize that they even existed.”

Whether the rules are about clothing faculty members are allowed to wear or the number of pieces of paper we can carry in, the decisions are frequently about power. In her chapter, Tenenbaum writes that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2022 at 1:30 pm

Workplace Health and Wellness Programs Put to the Test

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Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2022 at 12:17 pm

6 common errors in thinking

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Woo-Kyoung Ahn, John Hay Whitney Professor of Psychology at Yale University, has an excerpt from his book Thinking 101: How to Reason Better to Live Better in Inc. The excerpt begins:

WHEN I WAS a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, doing research in cognitive psychology, our lab group went out every now and then for nachos and beers. It was a great opportunity for us to ask our adviser about things that wouldn’t likely come up in our more formal meetings. At one of those gatherings, I summoned up the courage to ask him a question that had been on my mind for some time: “Do you think cognitive psychology can make the world a better place?” I had asked a simple yes-or-no question, so he chose a simple answer: “Yes.”

Over the course of the next 30 years, I’ve tried to answer that question myself by working on problems that I hope have real-world applications. In my research at Yale University, where I’ve been a professor of psychology since 2003, I’ve examined some of the biases that can lead us astray–and developed strategies to correct them in ways that are directly applicable to situations people encounter in their daily lives.

I also saw how “thinking problems” cause troubles that go far beyond our individual concerns. These errors and biases contribute to a wide range of societal issues, including political polarization, complicity in climate change, and ethnic profiling. They can also come into play for people who run businesses–how they hire staff, interact with their colleagues, set strategies.

I introduced a course called “Thinking” to show students how psychology can help them recognize and tackle some of these real-world problems and make better decisions. Now I’ve written a book, Thinking 101, to make these lessons more widely available. And here I’m presenting a sample of the kind of material you’ll find in it.

My book is not about what is wrong with people. Thinking problems happen because we are wired in very particular ways. Reasoning errors are mostly byproducts of our highly evolved cognition, which has allowed us to survive and thrive as a species. As a result, de-biasing is notoriously challenging.

To avoid these errors in running a business, merely learning what they are and making a mental note not to commit them isn’t enough. Fortunately, there are actionable strategies you can adopt to change your thinking and help your team work better. These strategies can also help us figure out which things we can’t control, and show us how solutions that might seem promising can ultimately backfire.

1. Don’t Be Throttled by Things That Have Always Worked

From antiquity into the late 19th century, Western healers believed that if you drew out a patient’s “bad” blood when they were ill, their ailments would get better. George Washington presumably died from this treatment when his doctor drew 1.7 liters of blood to treat a throat infection. By the time Washington was born, we had already figured out that the earth is round, and Sir Isaac Newton had formulated the three physical laws of motion, but our intelligent ancestors still thought draining blood was the bomb.

Still, if we were in their situation, we might not have been much different. Picture yourself in the year 1850, with excru­ci­at­ing back pain. You’ve heard that in 1820, King George IV was bled 150 ounces and went on to live for another 10 years. You’ve heard that your neighbor’s insomnia was cured by bloodletting. And you’ve heard that about three quarters of people who got sick and had blood drawn got better (I am making up these numbers). So, you try bloodletting and you actually do feel better.

But here’s the catch. Suppose there are 100 people who got sick but did not have their blood drawn, and 75 of these people also got better. Now you can see that three-quarters of sick people get better whether their blood is drawn or not. But people neglected to check what happens to those who don’t follow this practice. They focused only on the confirming evidence.

Confirmation bias can easily lead us to an exaggerated and invalid view of ourselves. Once we start believing that we are depressed, we may act like a depressed person, making deeply pessimistic predictions about the future and avoiding any fun–which would make anybody feel depressed. And once you start doubting your competency, you may avoid risks that could have led to greater career opportunities, and then, no surprise, your career will end up looking like you lack competency.

These vicious cycles can work at the societal level. Traditionally, almost all scientists were men. Most people who were allowed to continue in the field did a good job. Thus, we developed the notion that men are good at science. Women were hardly given a chance to prove that they could be good scientists, too. So we had little evidence that could disconfirm the belief that only men are good at science. And society continues to operate based on that assumption.

It’s not difficult to see that any stereotype based on race, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background can work the same way. Accord­ing to a 2020 report from Citibank, had our society invested equally in the education, housing, wages, and businesses of both White and Black Americans over the past 20 years, America would have been $16 trillion richer. If that number is too large to grasp, the gross domes­tic product of the United States was $21.43 trillion in 2019.

2. Keep in Mind That Examples Are Just Examples

I use a lot of examples in my teaching because cognitive psychology research tells me it’s useful to do so. Vivid examples are more convincing, easier to understand, and harder to forget than decontextualized, abstract explanations. But they can lead us to ignore important statistical principles.

Take the phenomenon known as the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. Right after an individual or a team appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, their performance will often begin to decline. The August 31, 2015, issue of SI has a cover photo of Serena Williams, looking at the ball she’d just tossed in the air to serve. The headline reads, “All Eyes on Serena: the Slam.” No sooner did the issue hit the newsstands than Serena lost in the US Open, without reaching the final. Check Wikipedia for a long list of the teams and athletes who experienced the SI cover jinx all the way back to 1954, the year the magazine launched.

If the jinx is real, why does it happen? Perhaps those who make the cover get arrogant and let their guards down. Or they might become overly anxious ­because of the spotlight it shines on them. But rather than blaming the athletes themselves, the jinx may be explained by a purely statistical phenomenon known as regression toward the mean.

Whether people are taking tests, or engaging in sports, music, or any other activity, random factors that affect performance always come into play, often giving a result that is better or worse than usual. Athletes are affected by playing conditions, the strength of the competition, quality of rest and eating, the bounce of the ball, variability in refereeing. Those who performed well enough to be featured on SI’s cover have likely had many random factors aligned in their favor for a stretch. But statistically, it can’t last forever, and it won’t. And when someone is playing at an extremely high level, even a little bad luck can mean a loss, and hence the jinx. That is, unusually high scores–or unu­su­ally low–tend to regress toward the average the next time one tries the same thing, whether you became arrogant or anxious or not.

The regression fallacy can happen in job interviews and auditions, and this is where the power of specific examples can be problematic. Many hiring decisions are made after face-to-face interviews. Those who have made the short list have already passed a threshold, so there is not much variance among the candidates, meaning that random factors can be enough to shift the final decisions. Many things can go well or badly for the candidates during an interview, and many of them are out of their control. The interviewer could be in a bad mood because of the news they heard in their car on the way to work. I know of one candidate who showed up with mismatched shoes because they happened to be lying next to each other when she was rushing out of the house; just imagine how self-conscious she must have been throughout the interview.

On top of all these random factors, the inherent problem with these encoun­ters is that interviewers observe only a thin slice of the person’s performance. And this impression drawn from that particular day can make the decision-makers ignore the records that reflect the candidate’s skills over many years. A person who looks brilliant during an interview may not be as awesome once they are hired. And the candidate who was nervous because of her mismatched shoes could turn out to be the big catch the company missed. Given regression toward the mean, that is what we should expect.

But how can we avoid committing the regression fallacy ourselves? What should interviewers do, for instance? If possible, the most straightforward method would be to evaluate candidates solely on the basis of their résumés.

Doing away with job interviews might not be feasible for hiring decisions that require you to see the candidate in action. Résumés and recommendation letters may feel too impersonal and vague; we may believe that we can make a much better decision if we can set our eyes on the real person even for a brief moment. The problem is that once we do, it is hard to keep that one impression from overly affecting us. We just need to remind ourselves of the regression toward the mean, and make multiple observations of applicants. It takes more time and effort to see them in different settings, but in the end, it might be cheaper and easier than hiring the wrong person.

3. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2022 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Coming Home: Matthew McConaughey and the Uvalde shooting

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Matthew McConaughey was raised in Uvalde, and the school shooting — the massacre — there hit him hard. He wrote a strong article that appeared in Esquire and begins:

Writing this story was hard. It’s personal—for me, but more so for the victims and their families, who have paid the ultimate cost. Which is why I’ve hesitated to write it. Observing from the front lines, then sharing what I saw—it makes me feel a bit like a fraud. Am I trespassing? Sharing sacred secrets that are not my stories to tell? I hope not.

It was 9:00 on a humid night in May, a Tuesday, and I had just finished a full day’s work at a studio in Austin. I checked my phone for the first time since early that morning and found it flooded with emails, texts, and voicemails.

“So sorry.”

“Oh my God, Matthew, it’s so sickening what happened.”

“Baby, I read the news, call me.”

The last message was from my wife, Camila.

I checked my newsfeed. Shit. Not again. Mass shooting. This time in Uvalde, Texas, my hometown. At Robb Elementary, less than a mile from where I went to school and my mom taught kindergarten. Twenty-one confirmed deaths, all but two of them children.

I called Camila. She was in London, where it was three in the morning, but she picked up on the first ring. “We need to go down there,” she said. She wasn’t asking or suggesting. “Yes,” I said, still in shock. “We do.”

With a tragedy this immense, you may not know what to do or how to do it, but the where, the when, and the why are clear. This would be a journey with a one-way ticket. We had no sense of how long we’d go for, nor a plan beyond showing up. But we knew that if we did, purpose would intercept us.

Camila caught the next flight to Texas. Early on Thursday morning, we dropped the kids off with friends, then made our way south.

I was heading home. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2022 at 9:52 am

The Effects of Managers’ Business Education on Wages and the Labor Share in the US and Denmark

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Not to put too fine a point on it, B-schools train their students to be managers who exploit and underpay workers. The abstract of the paper at National Bureau of Economic Research (emphasis added):

This paper provides evidence from the US and Denmark that managers with a business degree (“business managers”) reduce their employees’ wages. Within five years of the appointment of a business manager, wages decline by 6% and the labor share by 5 percentage points in the US, and by 3% and 3 percentage points in Denmark. Firms appointing business managers are not on differential trends and do not enjoy higher output, investment, or employment growth thereafter. Using manager retirements and deaths and an IV strategy based on the diffusion of the practice of appointing business managers within industry, region and size quartile cells, we provide additional evidence that these are causal effects. We establish that the proximate cause of these (relative) wage effects are changes in rent-sharing practices following the appointment of business managers. Exploiting exogenous export demand shocks, we show that non-business managers share profits with their workers, whereas business managers do not. But consistent with our first set of results, these business managers show no greater ability to increase sales or profits in response to exporting opportunities. Finally, we use the influence of role models on college major choice to instrument for the decision to enroll in a business degree in Denmark and show that our estimates correspond to causal effects of practices and values acquired in business education – rather than the differential selection into business education of individuals unlikely to share rents with workers.

Pretty harsh indictment of B-schools, I’d say: Workers exploited for nothing gained — just causing pointless misery.

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2022 at 2:51 pm

Virtual reality as an educational tool

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Michael Dempsey has an interesting article in BBC News that begins:

South Central Los Angeles is an area that has been tarnished with a troubled image. Both Hollywood and real-life crime stories have seen to that.

Carlos Oyarbide, who teaches English Language Development in South Central LA, is all too familiar with its reputation as a regular visitor.

“There’s truth in the violent stereotype, but I choose to teach there. It is an immigrant hub with a great sense of loyalty and community. And that community has an entrepreneurial spirit.”

That spirit has been harnessed at Mr Oyarbide’s school, Nava College Preparatory Academy. The school was the trial site for a scheme that has pitched using the metaverse to help teach English to students with a limited grasp of the language.

The term metaverse is used to describe a series of virtual reality worlds that can be accessed through a browser or virtual reality (VR) headset.

The idea behind the scheme is to harness the power of VR technology to bypass traditional teaching methods and plunge students into a world of possibility in a virtual universe.

The idea that VR can be used to boost learning isn’t new. In 2020, a study by business consultants PwC found that through the use of VR students could learn up to four times faster than in a traditional class setting.

However, the falling price of VR headsets has now made them a more affordable teaching aid.

For Mr Oyarbide, the possibility of sharpened focus among his easily distracted students had huge appeal.

“I’ve been teaching for 12 years. If kids can figure out anything it is how not to pay attention! I wanted to try something different, do normal learning from books for one period and then switch to VR.”

In doing this, he discovered that a VR environment swept away the inhibitions of many of his students wrestling with learning a new language.

He says the technique helped them practise their language skills without embarrassment.

Typical tasks performed by his students inside the VR classroom involved . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2022 at 5:17 pm

Billionaire-backed legal group sues to block student loan forgiveness

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Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

In August, President Biden announced he would provide student debt relief to lower and middle-class borrowers. Under the plan, eligible individuals would get up to $20,000 in student debt canceled if they received Pell Grants and up to $10,000 otherwise. The program is open to individuals who make less than $125,000 annually ($250,000 for married couples). The plan will benefit up to 43 million borrowers, and up to 20 million people will see their loans zeroed out.

On Tuesday, a man named Frank Garrison filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the relief. Here is how the Washington Post reported the news:

A public interest lawyer in Indiana is suing to block President Biden’s plan to cancel some student debt, arguing that the policy will force him to pay state taxes on the forgiven amount.

And this is the lead of CNN’s story:

In one of the first significant legal challenges to President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, a public interest lawyer filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that the policy is an abuse of executive power.

In both stories, we later learn that Garrison is being represented in the case by his employer, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), which the Washington Post describes as a “conservative public interest law firm.” But what you will not learn from either story is that the Pacific Legal Foundation receives extensive funding from right-wing billionaires. And this “public interest law firm” has a record of filing lawsuits that advance its donors’ economic and ideological interests.

Among the PLF”s major donors are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2022 at 1:16 pm

Good old Anki — that’s Alfa November Kilo Lima —and the NATO phonetic alphabet

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I just shipped a big box of Go boards to The Son for The Grandsons, and UPS notified me that there was an “exception,” so of course I called. I ended up having to give the tracking number — which actually includes both numbers and letters — to three operators. The letters turned out to be difficult.

When I called, I naturally got the Canadian UPS representative, who had had trouble in getting the tracking number right from my dictation. Once she got it right, she saw that the package is now in Seattle, so she transferred me to a US UPS representative. The US representative (once she got the tracking number right from my dictation) saw that the package was an international shipment, so she had me call an international UPS representative. The international representative had no trouble with the tracking number because by then I had learned how to dictate the tracking number correctly, and she informed me that the exception was already cleared and the package was continuing to wend its way (not her words) to the destination.

My takeaway from all that: I really must learn the NATO phonetic alphabet. That alphabet has been carefully developed so that the phonetic name for each letter sounds distinctly different from any of the other letter names so that you don’t run into the confusions that ensue when, say, “b” is heard for “v” or vice versa — Bravo (b’s name) does not sound at all like Victor (v’s name). Moreover, it is a standard a phonetic alphabet, so people are generally familiar with it if they do any work at all with spelling out words or tracking numbers.

All the NATO letter names are spelled as usual, with two exceptions:

“Alfa” and “Juliett” are intentionally spelled as such to avoid mispronunciations.

That quotation is from a Wikipedia article, which is interesting and worth reading.

So I decided to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet and to start today. From my Esperanto study, I know that Anki is perfect for this. As you can see at the link (and again the Wikipedia article is worth reading), Anki is a flashcard system that uses spaced repetition to ensure efficient and relatively easy learning — that is, things you are having difficulty with you see often, and things you know fairly well you see less often, and things you really know you see quite seldom (but still occasionally — and if you have difficulty when they pop up, then you will see them again sooner).

You can — and in most cases should — make your own deck of flashcards, but decks can be shared and if a deck is made to match the sequence of a particular textbook, for example, it makes sense to share. And the NATO phonetic alphabet is a natural for a shared deck. As the Wikipedia article says:

While Anki’s user manual encourages the creation of one’s own decks for most material, there is still a large and active database of shared decks that users can download and use.[13] Available decks range from foreign-language decks (often constructed with frequency tables) to geography, physics, biology, chemistry, and more. Various medical science decks, often made by multiple users in collaboration, are also available.

Anki has two website: one is to download the app, and the other is used by the app for decks of flashcards. “Using” generally means a daily practice going through the deck(s) you are learning, but it can also mean creating a flashcard (or a whole deck) — or searching through the shared decks and downloading any that are relevant.

So I downloaded one of the NATO phonetic alphabet decks, and I have already reviewed the first 10 cards. (Anki gives you only a few new cards each day, and since in this case there are only 26 cards, I’ll quickly get through them.)

Tomorrow I’ll use the app again, and it will present me with some new cards and also some of the cards from today — namely, those that gave me trouble. Within a few days I’ll know the NATO phonetic alphabetic cold.

I wrote a fairly detailed post on my own experience with Anki when I was studying Esperanto. If you’re interested in learning anything where spaced repetition and flashcards might be useful, take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

27 September 2022 at 5:32 pm

The Value of the Liberal Arts

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A friend pointed out this excellent essay by Hina Azam in Life & Letters, the official magazine for UT Austin’s College of Liberal Arts. The essay begins:

Those of us who teach in liberal arts colleges are passionate about the value of a liberal arts education. But for those outside of academia – even for those who might have received a degree in UT’s College of Liberal Arts – the precise meaning of “liberal arts” can be murky.  What, exactly, is meant by the “liberal arts”? What is the history of the idea, and how does it translate into the educational concept we know as a “liberal-arts curriculum,” or, more broadly, a “liberal education”? What is the value of a liberal arts education to both individual and collective life? This essay presents a brief overview of the idea, history, purposes, and values of liberal arts education, so that you, our readers, may understand the passion that inspires our faculty’s teaching and scholarship, and be similarly inspired.

What are the Liberal Arts?

The idea of the liberal arts originates in ancient Greece and was further developed in medieval Europe. Classically understood, it combined the four studies of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music – known as the quadrivium – with the three additional studies of grammar, rhetoric, and logic – known as the trivium. These artes liberales were meant to teach both general knowledge and intellectual skills, and thus train the mind. This training of the mind as well as this foundational body of content knowledge and intellectual skills was regarded by scholars and educators as necessary for all human beings – and especially a society’s leaders – in order to live well, both individually and collectively.

These liberal arts were distinguished from vocational or clinical arts, such as law, medicine, engineering, and business. These latter were conceived as servile arts – i.e. arts that served concrete production or construction. These productive/constructive arts were also known as artes mechanicae, “mechanical arts,” which included crafts such as weaving, agriculture, masonry, warfare, trade, cooking, and metallurgy. In contrast to the vocational or mechanical arts, the liberal arts put greater weight on intellectual skills – the ability to think and communicate clearly, and to analyze and solve problems. But more distinctively, the liberal arts emphasized learning and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, independent of immediate application. The liberal arts taught not only bodies of knowledge, but – more dynamically – how to go about finding and creating knowledge – that is, how to learn. Finally, the liberal arts taught not only how to think and do, but also how to be – with others and with oneself, in the natural world and the social world. They were thus centrally concerned with ethics.

Notably, the term “liberal arts” has nothing to do with liberalism in the contemporary political or partisan sense; the opposite of “liberal” here is not “conservative.” Rather, the term goes back to the Latin root signifying “freedom,” as opposed to imprisonment or subjugation. Think here of the English word “liberty.” The liberal arts were historically connected to freedom in that they encompassed the types of knowledge and skills appropriate to free people, living in a free society. The term “art” in this phrase also must be understood correctly, for it does not refer to “art” as we use it today in its creative sense, to denote the fine and performing arts. Rather, from the Latin root ars, “art” is here used to refer to skill or craft. The “liberal arts,” then, may be thought of as liberating knowledges, or alternatively, the skills of being free.

What is a Liberal Arts Education?

A liberal (arts) education is a curriculum designed around imparting core knowledge and skills through engagement with a wide range of subjects and disciplines. This core knowledge is taught through general education courses typically drawn from the humanities, (creative) arts, natural sciences, and social sciences. The humanities include disciplines such as language, literature, poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, religion, history, law, geography, archaeology, anthropology, politics, and classics. Natural sciences include subjects such as geology, chemistry, physics, and life sciences such as biology. Social sciences comprise disciplines such as sociology, economics, linguistics, psychology, and education. Through a core curriculum or general education courses, students gain a basic knowledge of the physical and natural world as well as of human ideas, histories, and practices.

A liberal arts education comprises more than learning only content, but also honing skills and cultivating values. Intellectual and practical skills at the heart of the liberal arts are reading comprehension, inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication, information and quantitative literacy, teamwork and problem-solving. Values that are central to liberal education are personal and social responsibility, civic knowledge and engagement, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action, and lifelong learning.

Why a Liberal Education? Purposes and Values

Four overarching purposes anchor the idea of an education in the liberal arts. One of those is

Continue reading. Full disclosure: I was graduated from a small college whose sole focus was educating through the liberal arts.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2022 at 10:16 am

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