Open Thread: Education

(by chris the cynic)

Your own, not the state of education as a whole or anything.

What was it like; what stands out; are you still in the process or finished; stuff?

(Remember that the prompt is to, hopefully, spark conversation not limit it.  There’s no off topic in an open thread.)

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10 thoughts on “Open Thread: Education

  1. froborr September 16, 2013 at 11:19 am

    As far as formal education is concerned, I think I am pretty much done. I honestly don’t see that grad school would add anything to my life except stress and debt.

    As far as informal education, that will end when I’m dead and not a moment before.

    I found most of my schooling to be boring, obnoxious, and painfully slow, until college, which was wonderful. I think I had maybe three college classes I didn’t like, two because I didn’t like the professor and one because the course material was painfully obvious and a waste of my time (Communications 101, which presented such gems as “people take criticism better if you couch it in terms of your own experience rather than their failings” and “sometimes there are things you don’t know about yourself that are obvious to others” as if they were new and exciting discoveries). Unfortunately, that last was a university-wide requirement.

    Standout professors: Ken Thompson, who specialized in cross-media adaptation but was in the process of switching over to New Media (this was 2001-4 or so). He was my professor for Intro to English Lit, the second half of English Lit 2 (which I’ll describe below), and Horror Lit. Really woke me up to the fact that visual texts are just as worthy of and amenable to analysis as any book, as well as being a really flexible, reasonable guy who encouraged me to approach assignments creatively and have fun with them. Case in point: English Lit II final project was to either write a nonlinear paper on a linear text or a linear paper on a nonlinear text. I was talking to him about video games as a form of nonlinear storytelling, and showed him my Star Control II/Legend of Mana fan site to support my argument. He looked through it a bit, then told me not to bother with the final project, he’d accept the fan site as a nonlinear paper on a nonlinear text.)

    Amelia Rutledge: I only had one class with her, Children’s Literature, but it was amazing. We read everything from Struwwelpeter to Harry Potter, and she loaded us down heavily with analytical papers (one due every other class period, which for a five-day-a-week summer class was pretty grueling) which she graded viciously, but always with very detailed explanations of what we did wrong, and thus cured me of the last dregs of my high school tendency to let my skills as a writer cover for lazy, sloppy analysis and research. Also, one of the most fantastic lecturers and provokers of class discussion I’ve ever had.

    Roger Lathbury: I had him for the first half of English Lit 2, Methods of Analysis, Victorian Lit, and Nonsense Lit. His classes were incredibly fun–he was very funny, and used an informal discussion approach to teaching. He was also a pretty tough grader that was very clear in his comments on papers, and his paper topics tended to be quite novel (rather than any of the standard Hamlet questions, for example, he had us pick a monologue and research how it differed between the three editions published in Shakespeare’s lifetime, then compile and argue for a “definitive” version of the monologue).

    Standout Classes:

    English Lit 2: My college had four English courses everyone was required to take: Freshman Comp, Freshman Lit, Lit 2, and Comp 2, in that order. The first two had standardized curricula across the entire school, but the latter two did specialized topics that varied from class to class and year to year. For Lit 2, I chose “Technology and Literature” because one of the two professors teaching it was Ken Thompson, who I’d had for Freshman Lit and liked. The other professor was some guy I didn’t know named Roger Lathbury, who ended up the best teacher I ever had. The first half of the class was taught by Lathbury, and was about the way in which the growing availability of printing presses and rise of the concept of intellectual property impacted Renaissance literature and particularly Shakespeare. The second half, taught by Thompson, was on the emergence of the Internet, web fiction, and web poetry. Fascinating class, fascinating interplay between two professors who were both excellent but couldn’t have been farther apart on the traditional-vs-experimental spectrum, and it was my first real contact with new media as an object of study. Speaking of which…

    Online, Interactive, and Nonlinear Media: Deeply schizoid class that couldn’t decide if it was a literature class or a creative writing class. We had readings, papers, and tests like a lit class, but most actual class time was devoted to working on the final project, which was creative. I created a map of a town that you could click on buildings to get interconnected story fragments of the people who lived there. As you wandered through the fragments a picture slowly emerged of a small town with only one employer that was being driven to obsolescence by the march of technology; it took most of my classmates about ten or fifteen minutes to notice that buildings were slowly disappearing off the map, until it finally erased itself completely and went to a 404 error at the 30-minute mark. What little I know about building a website (and it’s less now than then–I definitely don’t remember any of the Flash I used for that project) came from this class.

  2. Lonespark September 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    My brief thought on the way back out is:

    Subbing in elementary school and having a bright kid who doesn’t fit into school expectations are making me realize, repeatedly, what an insufferable, self-righteous, arrogant little pisspot I was through much of school. And it was still hard to be me, despite my easy school success and stable, middle class homelife. Because bullying…and…stuff. OMFG how did the rest of y’all survive?

    Also it’s kind of weird and creepy to sub at my old high school and walk past my virtually-unchanged old locker, that got glued shut and graffiti’d on… I suppose it could be a natural changing of the guard, but it doesn’t feel that way, in large part because I definitely NEVER planned to come back to this town.

  3. Lonespark September 16, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Also I feel like education is mostly a case of progressively learning that It’s More Complicated Than That. But of course, often, in terms of significance, it’s simpler. Selecting appropriate models, that’s what it’s all about. And realizing that none is the One True Conceptual Model /One True Analytical Approach,/etc.

  4. elliemurasaki September 16, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    I’m starting fall term in two weeks. Macroeconomics, women’s studies, fiction writing (shut up), health. Should be fun. Where by ‘fun’ I mean ‘I plan on challenging as much of the economics as I can from an intersectional feminist perspective, and also enjoying myself with writing exercises’.

  5. Brin September 16, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    As it happens, I found out today I got 91% on my freshman physics midterm! \o/

    I haven’t been doing as well on the lab reports as I have with the word-problem parts (~70% vs ~90% so far), but at this rate it’ll average out into a pretty good grade. I do like the concept of the labs, showing ways in which math can be useful as well as interesting–the one I’ve been writing up is about applying kinematic equations to an actual basketball actually rolling down a hallway–but formal writing is…not my strong suit. (It’s not as bad as essays: the labs are fairly short, explicitly structured*, and I’ve read enough science blogs’ quotes from scientific journals to have a feel for Formal Science Tone. Last semester I took calculus, which had no writing at all. I’m working my way up.)

    *Helps somewhat (not completely) with being unable to tell if you’re doing it wrong.

  6. Lonespark September 16, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Brin, that is awesome. That is exactly the kind of writing more people need to practice more, and earlier in their school careers. (Well, maybe all kinds of writing?) And I am gratified to see that is included in the English Language Arts curriculum at different levels when I sub.

    That kind of writing is hard and time-consuming, especially on a computer, unless you have certain convenient programs, which perhaps the new generation does? In the form of smartphone apps? I hope so…

  7. Brin September 16, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    That kind of writing is hard and time-consuming, especially on a computer, unless you have certain convenient programs, which perhaps the new generation does? In the form of smartphone apps?

    I’m not sure what you mean. It is somewhat tricky and time-consuming, but–as I said–I find it significantly easier than essays. It also feels subjectively faster than even the word problems. (You finish a paragraph, make some tweaks to others, sit back to look over your work, and oh hey, it’s been twenty-five minutes. When did that happen?) And the nice thing about computers is that it’s easier to make those tweaks. You can stick an additional sentence or paragraph in the middle without having to write everything after it over again.

    As for programs…I’m even less sure what you’re referring to there, but they did give me a graphing program (LoggerPro). (Though for the first, more practice-y lab you have to draw the graphs by hand, perhaps to make sure you appreciate having the program.) The provided motion sensor to echolocate the basketball’s changing position is made by the same company, so you plug the sensor into your laptop for the experiment and it outputs its results as a LoggerPro graph.

  8. froborr September 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    It’s not as bad as essays: the labs are fairly short, explicitly structured*

    Dangit, they’ve completely stopped teaching formal five-paragraph essays, haven’t they? I was afraid of that, they were dying when I was in high school.

  9. Lonespark September 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I meant because subscripts and superscripts and greek letters and symbols and graphs and stuff.

  10. Brin September 16, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    Froborr: Dangit, they’ve completely stopped teaching formal five-paragraph essays, haven’t they?

    A: I was homeschooled. The worst my pre-uni education can do is reflect badly on my mother, not on Kids These Days in general.

    B: We did do the five-paragraph essay thing once*, which is why I said “explicit”. (Which is, I suppose, a somewhat misleading word compared to what I meant.) In my admittedly-limited experience five-paragraph essays were about writing to a structure without admitting that’s what you were doing. Rather like the movie-blockbuster formula: if you know the essay formula exists, you can (if all went according to plan) see it reflected in a given essay, but you’re not supposed to be able to decipher the formula by looking at the essay if you don’t already know. If someone can tell just by looking, you’re not being subtle enough. It was also, simultaneously, an extremely constricting structure: dictating the exact number of sentences for your essay to have is a bit much.

    (I do recognise that I will need at least a mediocre writing ability if I am to get anywhere in university. I think I will probably take remedial English next semester. Perhaps the deadline will help, and I think I’ve been getting better at (but will need to continue practicing) the (anti-)perfectionistic aspect, being able to settle for a grade that isn’t as high as I would like but is at least non-failing so I can move on to the next thing.)

    *My high school writing consisted of getting a how-to-write book, struggling through it for several months to reach a point that should have taken maybe 3-4 weeks, giving up for a short while, then beginning the cycle again with a different book. One of them was titled “The Five-Paragraph Essay” or something very much like it, which jumped straight into the five-paragraph thing rather than getting bogged down in the lead-up like I did with every other book.

    Lonespark: I meant because subscripts and superscripts and greek letters and symbols and graphs and stuff.

    Ah. Mostly copy-pasting the symbols from websites that have already printed them. (You can create at least some of them within OpenOffice, but that requires searching through large special-character menus. Copying’s simpler.) Graphs are in separate files built to handle that sort of thing. This morning I mimicked subscript by lowering the font size on only that number. (I couldn’t find an in-OpenOffice way to create superscript, but I could probably copy-paste that with a bit of searching. Possibly…yes, I can make the built-in Linux calculator do superscript numbers and copy it from there. Letters would still need a bit more tinkering.)

    The exams (read: the parts where you don’t get to go poking around the Internet so they know you can still do the work in the absence of ways to cheat) are on paper. (I bought a trigonometry-capable calculator that wasn’t integrated into a laptop for the occasion.) I’ve also been doing the word-problem assignments on paper, then scanning them in.

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