Jun 032017
 

The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington has earned its renown as an experimental – indeed avant-garde – institution; its ‘progressive’ bona-fides have been warranted as well. Back in the day, I explored the possibility of taking a faculty position in entrepreneurship there. Although it didn’t come through, this institution has remained close to my heart.

A recent controversy at Evergreen has made national news and has placed at least one professor as well as students and staff in potential peril. From the New York Times:

[Professor Bret] Weinstein, who identifies himself as “deeply progressive,” is just the kind of teacher that students at one of the most left-wing colleges in the country would admire. Instead, he has become a victim of an increasingly widespread campaign by leftist students against anyone who dares challenge ideological orthodoxy on campus.

This professor’s crime? He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation.

A bit of background: The “Day of Absence” is an Evergreen tradition that stretches back to the 1970s. As Mr. Weinstein explained on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, “in previous years students and faculty of color organized a day on which they met off campus — a symbolic act based on the Douglas Turner Ward play in which all the black residents of a Southern town fail to show up one morning.” This year, the script was flipped: “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave campus for the day’s activities,” reported the student newspaper on the change. The decision was made after students of color “voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.”

Mr. Weinstein thought this was wrong. The biology professor said as much in a letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”

Seattle’s The Stranger reports on the “campus lockdown” ordered at Evergreen late this week “after local law enforcement officials received a call with a “direct threat to campus safety'”:

Student activists say they’ve been unfairly maligned. “While it is probably true that some of our strategies were very passionate, they were also peaceful,” an Evergreen student, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in an e-mail. “And while it might be true there was some ‘harassment’ (a subjective term), it was on the lines of condemnation and scorn, rather than threats and stalking.”

One student, who asked to remain anonymous out of safety concerns, said death threats to campus activists followed Weinstein’s media appearances. “A swastika appeared on campus. Student personal information was published on 4chan channels and other neo-Nazi and violent racist internet communities,” the student told The Stranger.

Said another student: “Calling these people ‘Weinstein supporters’ would be irresponsible of me. These people are mostly organized racists from off campus that use internet presence, anonymity, and misinformation to disrupt a narrative, and the threat of violence to suppress those who would fight back.”

Professor Weinstein fears that his and other students have been placed at risk:

On Twitter, [he] claimed that his student supporters were being threatened online by his critics. He subsequently tweeted: “I’m told people are doxing those that protested against me. I don’t know if it’s true. If it is, *please stop.* No good can come from that.” The biology instructor also said that Evergreen campus police warned him that he was “not safe on campus. They can not protect me.”

Student demonstrators refuted Weinstein’s claims that their supporters had attempted to dox the teacher’s supporters. They believe the media’s focus on Weinstein is a distraction from their chief concern: ongoing issues revolving around racism, sexism, and transphobia at Evergreen.

Many of Weinstein’s faculty colleagues want him punished.

Look at Bret Weinstein’s “Rate My Professors” page.

Here are some of the demands from students who objected to Weinstein’s published statements .

A member of the State Legislature has introduced a bill to de-fund and privatize Evergreen.

As a professor and as a person with many fond memories of the energetic intellectual and moral debates I shared or witnessed as a young student at SUNY/Buffalo and Stanford University, I find this Evergreen mess dismaying to the point of heartbreak.

cross-posted from basil.CA

Mar 032017
 

With several of his graduate students NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has just published the second annual “What’s Changing in Journalism” guide, which “depicts trends that are influencing the business now, and are still new enough that even experienced journalists may not understand what’s going on. Each development gets its own page, with a concise summary, links to learn more, key people to follow: everything you need to get up to speed.”

This is marvelous and helpful work. The trends:

Under the principle “go where the people are,” newsrooms are now making stories and features that are fully native to social platforms.ONE This is easier in the case of chatbots,TWO harder when it comes to audio,THREE which is just starting to adapt to the social media age. To reach people directly — without platforms in the middle —journalists are doing more with mobile push notificationsFOUR and reviving the email newsletter.FIVE Meanwhile, artificial intelligenceSIX is becoming part of the work flow, as new forms of storytelling emerge, like drone journalism,SEVENvirtual reality and 360° video.EIGHT With technologies and platforms proliferating, news companies have to get much better at UX designNINE and make subtler use of metrics,TEN since many of the traditional measures no longer apply. And with the discovery that people will pay for news, it’s time to get smarter about membership models.ELEVEN

I’ve folded a recent post re Jay Rosen’s work into this one. The two are closely related, obviously, political concerns being implicit in the first and explicit in the second –>

My first mentor keeps a list of things in journalism that worry him the most. His first three (“ranked by urgency”):

1. The President of the United States is proceeding as though he were liberated from the distinction between true and false. His spokespeople are following on this dubious lead. What does the press do in response?

2. It’s possible we are sliding toward authoritarian rule. That’s a development journalists ought to oppose with all their might. But they are reluctant to think that way. They don’t want to be on the opposing team— or anyone’s team. They just want to report the news. “We’re not the opposition,” they say. Yet they may have no choice. From what traditions can they draw to rise to the occasion, and find the will to fight?

3. With Trump in power there is a surplus of eventfulness, too many things to report, track, investigate, critique. Too much news! How does the press keep from exhausting itself and fracturing our attention into too many pieces?

Jan 312017
 

In a tart post this morning Atrios notes that he would be

shocked if foreign enrollment in [American] colleges and universities wasn’t down 10%+ next year (I completely made up that figure, of course, but you get the idea) even if they started handing out green cards to anyone who asked for one. And those institutions really rely on full paying foreign students these days, for better or for worse (certainly for worse in some ways, but just ripping away that revenue source isn’t going to help).

Prediction: If the travel bans and if the “extreme vetting” stay in place, Canadian universities like Kwantlen will see a surge in applications. And what a tremendous thing that would be for my country and for my colleagues in postsecondary institutions across Canada. But at such a cost.

Nov 142016
 

downtownsky

Over at Research as a Second Language: Writing, Representation, and the Crisis of Social Science, Danish writer Thomas Basbøll does not view this question as an academic one. Neither would he give “both” as his answer.

In his stirring dissection of the United States election, “The Liberal Arts of Being Ruled,” Thomas writes:

The past few years have seen an intense effort to “purify” our political organisations, not least within the university and it would seem that university students and their teachers are now the least equipped to understand how Trump was able to win the highest office in the land.

You can’t beat a political opponent that paralyzes you with fear simply when he expresses his opinion. It’s because the left demonized Trump that they were unable to defeat him. In a word that I hope to give a particular meaning to in this post, they dehumanized him. In that sense, the rise of Trump can be attributed to the fall of the humanities. …

And that means that it can also be attributed to the inextricably related rise of the social sciences. For over a century, funded by a network of powerful foundations, they have wrested our understanding of our own selves away from, well, our own selves, and placed it under the tutelage of confederacy of academics and journalists, a convocation of politic worms, who are more comfortable with ideologies than actual ideas. …

Think of rhetoric as the liberal art of humanizing your enemy, of converting animosity into language. Not for the sake of your enemy but for the sake of your own moral orientation in the universe. Once you have decided that half your country has chosen a leader to represent only its bigotries, you have lost your way. Your ethics have been compromised by generalities. You have allowed a vague “theory” to overwhelm your data, which you have, I am afraid, taken too much for given. You’ve been taken in. And now you are living in fear of an inhuman oppressor. …

I think we may have to face the fact that social science and democracy are incompatible. The social sciences conduct an undemocratic inquiry into society. Democracy is an unscientific way of governing it. It is because psychologists and sociologists have supplanted poets and novelists as experts on who “we” are that we have lost faith in democracy—at a deeper level, we have simply lost faith in each other. Democracy is possible only on a “humanist” foundation. As Pound tried to tell us a hundred years ago, the arts provide the “data of ethics”.

Basbøll is a brilliant writer and thinker. I can recommend all his work to you without reservation.

Nov 092016
 

Professor Mayhew’s recent take on the topic:

terminal1Teaching is transactional. The instructor is not feeding information to the students, teaching them that information, but interacting with them. A third element is the text in the class. The text is not inert, but active as well. For example, yesterday we were reading Olvido García Valdés, one of the best Spanish poets of the day.I could see the students rise to the intellectual level of the poetry itself, and it was wonderful as their comments got more and more brilliant. 

One student brought up the idea that this poetry was “elitist,” because it required a certain level of education to read and understand. Well, we are an elite, even to be in a graduate classroom reading anything at all, even non-elite poetry. For me elitism would be despising those who are not in the classroom with us, feeling that we are special because we get to spend our time like this.  To call ourselves “elitist” for this is a wretched sentiment.

Elitism is a theme in his online life. His many posts on this subject are illuminating.

Nov 022016
 

In a blog post this morning called “A Raging Snowflake,” my good friend Clarissa writes:

Remember the Oppressed Tiffany, a very special snowflake whose “narrative was erased by the entire field of academia” when a hapless prof asked her to work on her writing?

The administration of her college is now going to humiliate the entire teaching faculty by forcing them to attend classes on microaggressions to appease the raging snowflake. Serves them right for not figuring out that their job is not to teach the snowflakes but to praise them slavishly and exuberantly without pause.

I normally tend to agree with Clarissa but need to part ways with her here. The unnamed professor apparently announced his/her suspicions – that the student had plagiarized an assignment – to the entire class. There is never a reason to humiliate a student that way, IMHO, even if you have proof of such wrongdoing, and there doesn’t seem to have been any in this case.

Below is a photograph of part of the assignment. The professor indicates that this student could not have used the word “hence.” I might have been offended by that remark, too!

hence

I am not certain that this teacher was trying to “marginalize” a Latina student. The prof was, though, certainly being a real oaf and, in those moments, a terrible teacher.

And, too, who the heck doesn’t know the word “hence” – in an academic environment? I teach students from all over the world, and practically to a person the word “hence” is in their vocabulary, and if anything used too often.

By the way, you should read Clarissa’s blog every day. She is very prolific, opinionated, brilliant, and vivid. A joy.

h/t Clarissa

Jul 292016
 

Even when participants are not being paid by the hour, meetings are costly: Notwithstanding smart-phones, no one around the table is really doing something else, at least not with an undivided focus. A poorly planned or run meeting wastes everybody’s time, not just yours.

A meeting called for the purpose of brainstorming is a weird thing. There is an agenda, but nothing’s really on it … except be thoughtful, and be creative, and be that way *right now*.

Hootsuite’s James Mulvey writes that business-marketing teams – I would add academic departments as well – can brainstorm more effectively by applying techniques used by writers of television comedy. He quotes his Hootsuite colleague Liam MacLeod – who is also a comedy writer: “The biggest mistake most marketing brainstorms make is that people don’t listen to each other. Everyone is talking at once and trying to get their idea heard. In most marketing brainstorms there’s a lot of noise and not a lot of actual thinking.”

MacLeod a his co-writers divide their writing sessions into three stages:

  1. Silence and thinking
  2. Sharing ideas
  3. Collaboration

The thinking period in a comedy brainstorm begins with a writing prompt and two minutes of silence, explains MacLeod: “For us, when we’re writing a script, when we’re coming up with the idea for an episode or a scene, we like to start with a keyword like ‘restaurant’ or ‘first date.’ This is the writing prompt.

“We then set a timer for two minutes and all sit in silence, thinking on that prompt. The timer, we find, is really useful in giving everyone a set amount of time to think.”

When the timer rings, one person goes through their list of ideas. The majority of the ideas at this stage are mediocre. But going around the room one-by-one ensures everyone has a chance to be heard and that everyone is listening to one another.

“In your typical company brainstorm, there’s pressure to perform. Especially at ad agencies—everyone wants to be seen as someone who can come up with ideas. So often the loudest voices end up on the whiteboard,” says MacLeod.

“We find that by the time we go around the room, new ideas are starting to form. For example, you might have meant one thing—but it sparked a different direction for me. So you’re getting a new synthesis of all those initial ideas. This is where you break into more creative ideas.”

Once everyone in the room has had a chance to share their ideas, the brainstorm enters the collaborative phase. “It’s speed thinking at this point,” says MacLeod. “A lot of ideas are going to be dumb. But you need that quantity. I’d rather leave a brainstorm with 20 ideas rather than three or four.”

Sorting the good from the mediocre is simple: “Typically, if you say something and everyone in the group starts to add things and run with the idea, it’s usually original. Those are the moments you need to look for. Even if it is a stupid idea, but gets people talking and laughing together—that’s what you want to look for. This is why listening is important. You want the group to take an idea and add to it and get the group thinking together.”

The whole post is really helpful, with a step-by-step ‘recipe’ at the end. It’s a good use of your time.

Apr 272016
 

FirstDraftNews

FirstDraftNews.com is a beautiful and wide-ranging resource created for journalists “who source and report stories from social media.”

What is the best way to search for eyewitness media when a story breaks? What are the most efficient and effective ways to verify what you find? How should you approach and credit social sources? What role can you play in stopping the spread of rumours and hoaxes? How can you do all this while remaining commercially competitive? …

Here on First Draft News you will find relevant features, reviews, case studies and analysis authored by members of the First Draft Coalition alongside a library of free training resources for use in the newsroom and the classroom.

First Draft is also, I have found, a godsend to non-journalists who write and teach professionally and who need to navigate and fact-check enormous amounts of information in order to do their jobs at a high level. The site has sections devoted to News Gathering (Mastering Google Search to find eyewitness media and How to find geolocated videos on YouTube, for example), Verification (How to use TinEye to find the oldest version of an image online), and Ethics and Law (What are the legal implications for accidental copyright infringement? and A simple guide to the complexities of copyright law). The site also focuses on Fakes and Hoaxes (Lessons from The New York Times Super Tuesday hoax: Five ways to spot fake news and, my favourite, The ‘giant’ rat found in London is almost definitely not 4 feet long).

University educators can create “packs” useful articles and share them with their students and/or colleagues. Even better, in my experience students eat up the kind of online platforms and tools vetted and annotated here; these lessons and resources will not go unused. And finally, First Draft provides a number of detailed and contemporary case studies that make research – and discussion of research methods – vivid and fun.

A handy-dandy starting spot for you: 5 Vital browser plugins. They include Storyful Multisearch (gives you customized and filtered searches of numerous databases at once), Google Translate (provides automatically translated posts originally written in languages you don’t know well), RevEye (performs a reverse image search “to see if the image has appeared elsewhere before”), Distill Web Monitor (“let[s] you know about changes to a web page via a pop-up on your computer, email or SMS”), and Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer (checks “whether a picture is all it claims to be” – “time, date, device used” – by examining its metadata).

Apr 072016
 

Starting early last year I noticed that students would take photographs of notes I’d written on the board with their smart-phones. What a great idea, I thought – at first. Then I noticed that on some assignments my own on-the-whiteboard language was being parroted back to me. Here is my friend Clarissa’s smart take on the topic:

Studies show that copying information from the blackboard by hand allows students to retain a lot more knowledge than typing this information.

Typing, however, is an outdated trend. Today, students don’t type. They photograph. Time and again, I see a student snooze through the class period only to take a photo of the blackboard at the end of class. This is, of course, a lot more useless than typing. If you haven’t heard the lecture and haven’t tried to make it meaningful to yourself through taking your own notes, the scribbles on the blackboard will have no meaning to you.

I don’t forbid photographing of the blackboard but I always wonder why such a silly method of note-taking even exists.

Mar 082016
 

While we’re talking about Jay Rosen, let me introduce you to an initiative he started the other day with some of his graduate students at NYU: NewsLiteracy2016. This is a wonderful project.

Jay’s announcement on his Facebook feed:

One of the first things I teach my students is: “Online, the simplest way to add value is to save the user time.”

That was the principle behind a project we launched today, called NewsLiteracy2016. Each of my 11 graduate students took a key trend or disruptive force that is changing journalism and studied it until they knew it cold. Then they reduced all that knowledge to a series of time-saving features: a short 500 word introduction, a list of the best links for further reading, good people to follow for that topic, key charts and graphs to illustrate trends, a “why is this important?” box.

The cover image (below) is a single paragraph summarizing what’s changing in journalism, and each clause links to the one-page study guide for that topic. So it’s both a condensation, and a table of contents.

We made this especially for teachers and students, and anyone who wants to understand why people keep talking about a “crisis” in journalism. My Studio 20 students built the site and did the design. I hope you will check it out, and “like” this post so it spreads on Facebook, or even consider sharing it with your network. It will save your friends a lot of time!

journalism

Here’s the picture with the links working: As news consumption moves to mobileONE and publishers lose control of distribution,TWO business models have to evolve with changes in the larger ecosystem.THREE Wise media companies are focusing more on products,FOUR exploring how to personalize the flow of information,FIVE and engineering a smarter newsroom workflow.SIXMeanwhile, journalists are realizing that data can help them find better stories,SEVEN and they’re making friends with automation.EIGHTThey understand that users can assist in news production,NINE that if you can’t have scale it’s better to be niche,TEN and that excelling at explanation can interest more people in the news.ELEVEN