Re: Slump

1

Imagine your students naked!


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:50 PM
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Gunny sacks, cinder blocks, and deep body of water should do the trick.


Posted by: Ari | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:51 PM
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Imagine them naked, stuffed in gunny sacks weighted down by cinder blocks, and sinking in a deep body of water. Glug, glug.


Posted by: Ari | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:52 PM
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Tell them you were at that party that got mentioned in the Times Style section the other day. That'll get their attention and win their respect.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:52 PM
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I just had a term like this. It reall sucked and I wish I had good advice to get out of it, but I don't.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:54 PM
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The real answer is: get used to it, oldster. Upside: in a few years, it'll seem normal.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:56 PM
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The worst part is the ridiculous contempt that comes out of this. "You fuckers are paying $40k a year to stare off into space?" Oh, stop whining, old man. But still.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:56 PM
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6 made me laugh and cry at the same time. You're just bitter because I blew your chance to spring the cat.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:57 PM
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Set somebody on fire.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:59 PM
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Bring a cat along to class with you. That'll get their attention and earn their respect.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 2:59 PM
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In my alma mater #1 teachers who encountered this problem solved it by quitting and starting restaurants.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:00 PM
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"You fuckers are paying $40k a year to stare off into space?"

Half the problem is they aren't paying (parents) or don't really internalize that they're paying (loans)


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:01 PM
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How big is the class?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:04 PM
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Get their attention and earn their respect. That'll get their attention and earn their respect.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:05 PM
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I hear that you either have to kick someone's ass or become someone's bitch.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:08 PM
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Sifu's suggesting that you take the most intransigent of them and make an example by shooting them in the head. You can hide the body in an abandoned service closet, just remember to add some lime.

That'll bring the rest into line for a while.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:08 PM
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1) Sing your next lecture.

2) Burn a $100 bill at the beginning of the class.

3) When all else feels, you can read and comment on more blogs and make yourself sleep, and cry.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:09 PM
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13: 30-ish.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:10 PM
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I say cut your losses and just start showing film strips and videos until the end of the semester. My high school had the Bee Gees' version of "Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" on Laserdisc for just this purpose.


Posted by: Tom | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:11 PM
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When all else feels

How Labs looks forward to that day.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:12 PM
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Find the biggest, meanest looking dude in the class, walk right up to him, and kiss him on the lips. Then collapse, weeping.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:14 PM
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20: Jesus, that one wasn't even close. I fail.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:14 PM
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Cry, cry, masturbate, cry.

(for a M T W F class)


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:20 PM
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everything I touch turns to muddled and uninteresting

Nah. You're teaching philosophy, aren't you? It was like that before you touched it.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:20 PM
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Any fat kids? You could hold class on actual trolley tracks.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:21 PM
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go negative

play the race card

it's all you've got left


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:22 PM
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Find a slump buster.


Posted by: asl | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:22 PM
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Your students probably are skipping the reading. Come up with a couple of write-on-the-board activities where you give them five minutes to re(we allege)read the text, and they have to work in groups to categorize it. Pick up the lecture after that.

Other than that, take spring break to recharge. You'll get your swing back.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:33 PM
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You'll get your swing back.

For god's sake don't start hitting them with a bat. You want a clean kill.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:36 PM
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Find a $5500/hr hooker. Believe me, they're worth it.


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:36 PM
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These are all excellent suggestions. Cala, I use various daily assignments to enforce the reading requirements, which I've dropped recently because I have a bunch of other papers to grade; I'll start with them again.

General observation: it's hard to spark a discussion of the history of philosophy when students haven't done the reading.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:38 PM
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substance monism! Substance monism!!!


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:40 PM
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Tell them what's true, and let them go early.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:40 PM
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Alternately, ask them "what is truth?" and wash your hands.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:41 PM
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33: Specifically, "You people truly suck. Get the fuck out of here and don't come back until you've done the reading."


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:42 PM
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"You people truly suck. Get the fuck out of here and don't come back until you've done the reading."

You know, I once had a philosophy prof (initial R.A.; we've discussed him before, Labs) do basically this, without the swearing.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:46 PM
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Oh man. I'm not even a teacher, nor am I in philosophy, but when my classmates have obviously not done the reading it makes me want to brain them.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:52 PM
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Cheer up. Only fifty two semesters to go.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:53 PM
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He had two things I don't have, Ogged: godlike virtue, and tenure.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:53 PM
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Did you really want advice? Or just wisecracks? I can't tell.


Posted by: Eric | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:54 PM
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I'm pretty sure he wants real advice.

For lack of anything useful to offer, most of us are offering wisecracks. It's our way.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:55 PM
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40: He posted *here* (and not as an Ask the Mineshaft). Which do you think he wanted?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:57 PM
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Why don't you give some advice and we can make fun of it, Eric?


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:58 PM
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Feel genuine gratitude and joy that none of these students will be frustrating themselves at the smoker.


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 3:59 PM
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You can always take solace in describing in loving detail how their chances of passing the course are inexorably shrinking.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:02 PM
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in hs i used to do homework during the classes, the math homework during the literature time and so on
or in the evening while watching TV, the drama series or something, so may be your students are busy doing something else, no?
so that you can go around like inspecting what they are doing something
but that was hs, not uni
i wonder what i ever did at home, only read a lot all kinds of then available fiction may be, which now i already forgot, so much time wasted


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:09 PM
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Can you make the material topical?

"You fuckers are paying $40k a year to stare off into space?"

they're paying it to make their parents happy b/c their parents believe it's necessary, the kids believe for vague reasons that it's necessary, and probably most concretely b/c having the degree is in fact, necessary for a lot of jobs. Paying attention in class is not necessary to satisfy any of the above.

We believe that there's a payoff to the interior life, and even the professional life (writing skillz, analytical thought, etc..). Your students might not believe that.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:10 PM
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obviously, i failed to absorb writing skillz.

"we believe that paying attention to the material leads to a payoff..."


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:11 PM
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I'm usually not a fan of overly gimmicky classroom things, but this "Who wants to be a Millionaire" Power Point template saved my ass with a really umm... passive, group of students once.

It's a really great adaptation - sound cues and everything. I do a couple of questions at a time and then segue into a bit of lecture/discussion. Rinse, repeat. It seemed to work fairly well even on the perpetually disinterested.

There's a Jeopardy one by the same guy that might work better in a Philosophy setting. Both can be found here (scroll down a little)

http://www.usu.edu/ata/resources.htm



Posted by: orangatan | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:14 PM
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labs, have you tried prozac? I don't think it would make your classroom more interesting, but maybe with enough meds your wouldn't be as bothered by sucking?


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:19 PM
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If you have someone available to do it, perhaps you could have someone read a book aloud to them while they put on their own puppet show to the story. Or they can simply act it out.

Maybe one day you can help them each make their own book, and then put the class created books in the reading center for all of them to read.

Could you provide some art materials, and read aloud to them without showing them the pictures, and have them draw their own scenes?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:23 PM
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Is this an advanced class? If not do they all know their colors, shapes, numbers, and the words for them. Can they spell their colors? Can they do rhyming words? Do they know all their sight words? I'm assuming this is how they're taught to read since phonics doesn't seem to be taught anymore.

My suggestion get a volunteer or yourself and challenge the kids who can read all their colors or how fast can they read them. Get a magazine or newspaper and see how many of their sight words they can find, or words that begin with A.
The first one to find a color word in a magazine gets a sticker or a number spelled or a sight word.

If you really want them to sit and read make a chart and when they read a book and can tell you something about it, they get a star by their name.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:25 PM
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To overcome such problems, I often get my students to read the night before and to find out the meanings of difficult words. During class, I would have a quiz on synonyms or antonyms related to the assignment at hand. Very often, I would go over the meaning of words with them, illustrating their meaning by making sentences or by giving examples. Sometimes, I use cloze passages to test their new vocabulary.

I remember one particular reading assignment that was related to baby snatchers. It coincided with front page news about a senior government official who had just married a woman, more than twenty years his junior. We turned that topic into a debate and it was one of those rare moments for a teacher to see disinterested students suddenly becoming enthusiastic about their reading. Their ability to relate the reading text to what was happening around them was the reason for the change of mindset.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:27 PM
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Have a contest to see who can build the best robot.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:29 PM
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I know this isn't the place for earnest advice, Labs, but I was feeling this way earlier this semester (low-energy students, possible non-reading-doing, even to the point of bullshitting their daily 5-minute in-class writing), so I started coming in every day with a totally implausible theory about what was really going on in every text and making them prove me wrong for the whole day, using the ideas in that text to fight with me.

What's really annoying me about my survey students this semester is that they assent to everything we read. Yesterday, we discussed passages from Samuel Johnson, Laurence Sterne, and William Blake (in order, obviously, to discuss the splintering responses to enlightenment culture), and they were like, "Wow, Dr. Johnson is totally right about life, you know?" "Man, Sterne really understands how life is." "Blake is really applicable to my life." THESE THREE THINGS CANNOT ALL REPRESENT YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE OF YOUR LIFE.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:35 PM
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Well, there was this recent post (which, um, linked to our blog) that I thought was actually pretty good at generalizing some important teaching principles.

The other thing is, though, you do actually kind of need to ditch old notes. Abstract from each set maybe three, five main points, put 'em on an index card, and lecture from it. You may panic, you may sweat, you may stammer and stutter and lose your cool. But at least you won't be bored. And they'll learn something about The Life of the Mind as they watch you track your topic down in real time.

Relying on old, thorough outlines is a recipe for zombie lectures.


Posted by: Eric | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:43 PM
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Your students have curious minds that need to be challenged. Hide little treats around the classroom -- scraps of meat, brightly coloured balls. Spray interesting smells in hard-to-reach corners -- perfume, fish, or hair from other, unfamiliar students. A scrunched-up cigarette packet can hold a student's attention for hours.


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:43 PM
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"You people truly suck. Get the fuck out of here and don't come back until you've done the reading."

My history of philosophy professor did this too, again sans the "fuck."

The trouble w/ history of philosophy, like any history, is that it seems like one damn thing after another. You can jazz it up with a theme -- rationalism vs. empiricism! -- but then you feel like you're falsifying the subject matter to an extent. But then, no matter what you do, that will happen anyway.

The best thing I ever read about metaphysics was Nietzsche's line about how, when confronted with some abstruse theory of How Reality Is, one should ask, "What morality is this philosopher aiming at?"

I bring that up b/c playing up the moral/ethical angle is another way to suggest that metaphysical beliefs matter.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:47 PM
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Oh, man, I don't use notes. I can't, never been able to. My best friend writes up her plan for every class and the very sight of her class notes makes me shiver with fear. Even still, I've taught some of this material so many times, it's like a jazz tune that you've already done 10 different improvisational solos for; at some point, you want to scrap it and just play a new fucking song.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:55 PM
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I dunno. Lots of people still do "I Got Rhythm."


Posted by: Eric | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 4:58 PM
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I'm doing it right now, and will be doing it for the rest of the day. Grrr....


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 5:00 PM
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But, here's another thing--of course the first time you work up a course it's a tremendous amount of work and you don't want to do that again right away, but sticking in one or two new lectures is actually doable, and you can pace yourself to a whole new tempo without rewriting the whole set.


Posted by: Eric | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 5:06 PM
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I'm reading Leiter on Nietzsche and morality. I'm pushing myself to the limit, looking for things to dislike. Motherfucking Leiter.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 5:16 PM
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I like Cala's suggestion about the in-class writing. My sole experience of philosophy actually involved something like that, which was reasonably effective. And you don't have to grade them. Walking around offering substantive facilitation (to get the groups talking, not to tell them the answers) can be perfectly sufficient.

On the other hand, Burn a $100 bill at the beginning of the class is not a bad suggestion, and I mean that seriously. I am sufficiently earnest that I would be likely to write out the per-class cost on the bulletin board and then wave the cash.

The last time I did something like that was to make a point about earnings with a h.s. degree versus without, and it got exactly the response I was hoping for.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 5:17 PM
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Not bulletin board, chalkboard. Gah. Brain is fried.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 5:28 PM
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"You people truly suck. Get the fuck out of here and don't come back until you've done the reading."

Alternatively, the next time you ask a question and no hands go up you just shrug, pack up your stuff, and leave. I know someone who did this and claims the effect was salutary. It probably only works once, though, if at all.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 5:39 PM
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Level with them.
Tell them that you've been hating teaching the class, and it looks to you like they're bored too.
Invite suggestions - and regardless of what they say - agree.
Then carefully explain the previous nights reading, tell them how much it sucks that you all have no time to discuss it, and ask them nicely to pick it up with the reading for next time, so you all don't have to suffer.

Either that or just make the chalk-squeaking-on-the-blackboard sound any time you feel dissatisfied with the class until they submit to your will.


Posted by: Zakkx | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:04 PM
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Heebie went to a seminar
that might help you.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:21 PM
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Eric at 60 mentions jazz variations on "I Got Rhythm."

I sit down to read this week's New Yorker and on page 60, read "Triumph [a card trick] is to magic what 'I Got Rhythm' is to jazz, the basis of innumerable variations."

Comment 60. Page 60. My brain just exploded.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:25 PM
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(I know, I know, Eric just read the same article, but the 60 is pretty rad.)


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:26 PM
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I had a class many years ago that it turns out that the students actually liked, but I didn't think so during the semester, and I was starting to feel that the subject matter was just not working. It was a class on gender and colonialism--the problem for me partially was that I'd set up most of the readings to raise the question about when we ought to strategically or factually insist on gender being an important category in the history of colonialism, etcetera, and the students simply didn't accept that there was any kind of choice to be made--that you could just study race/class/gender/sexuality/handedness/whatever all the time, at all moments.

So about halfway through the semester, I started to feel, "Eh, this is no good, this isn't working" but there really wasn't much I could do about that. I did try levelling with them about the problem I was seeing, and that bought us about a day's discussion, relaxed the class a bit, gave us a metaissue to talk about.

I had a much more dreadful experience one semester when I was co-teaching with a colleague, but what helped in that case was that we had two sections of the same class, and one section was great and the other horrible. There was just some really bad juju of some kind affecting the second section--it was students I otherwise liked, but they just wouldn't talk no matter what we did. The first section, with the same material, was bouncing off the walls. In that case, there really wasn't anything left--we tried every trick we knew. I actually just felt enormous dread every time I had to walk into that section.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:31 PM
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I'm a bit confused, Why is it the professor's responsibility that the students give a shit? I understand that it's desirable, but absent a given shit, all other enterprises are worthless. I bust my ass for my classes, and if I didn't, I'd fail and deserve it. I do so even when my "professors" are total dipshits. Mine is not to reason why and all that. Either they do what you tell them or they don't.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:40 PM
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Hm. A clunky group of students could be insurmountable, or they could be taking their cues from you. Trying to inject some (physical) dynamism in the classroom could help: do you sit in front of the class, stand in place, walk around and make drawings on the board?

The third time I taught the same class, which had been a wonderful success the first times around, it was clearly dying early on, and I had the classroom changed from a chairs-in-a-row setup to a seminar room, 20 or so students seated around a table. It may be too late in the semester for that.

And what's said upthread about using the same class notes -- working toward a more free-form style is key. Notes on a blackboard, from which both you and they work, and asking them to turn to specific pages in the text, gets them involved. This is all kind of obvious.

Damn, it's a conundrum, and there's not enough information about the situation. In terms of subject matter: I once had an in-class argument with my advisor in a seminar on Russell and early Wittgenstein in which I said to him, "Don't you get tired of reinvigorating the same philosophical problems that you know perfectly well are, from a later perspective, inadequately framed?" Oh, shit, that did not go over well. But yes, that's the task, to make those issues come alive again and again.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:44 PM
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It depends what class it is, FM. If it's something where you're teaching very difficult readings, a lot of the learning doesn't happen while their eyes are passing over the reading for class; it happens through discussion and argument. I don't just need students who have memorized things. I want my students to be able to have a conversation about ideas they create about the things we read. Someone who has read Swift and can't say anything interesting about his work is worse than worthless; he's a fraud.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:46 PM
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The first section, with the same material, was bouncing off the walls. In that case, there really wasn't anything left--we tried every trick we knew. I actually just felt enormous dread every time I had to walk into that section.

This reminds of something a lecturer I was talking to once said: "Sometimes the class dynamic just sucks." Actually, it was more like "sometimes the students just suck" but in context the paraphrase is more accurate to what was meant.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:46 PM
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Improvisation, egads!

AWB's riff on improvisation got under my skin. I'm always deciding what I want to say and how at the last minute. Unfortunately I teach professional students where I'm expected to use powerpoint and hand out every slide I discuss in advance. They freak out if I add a slide or change the order of things.

But to me stale powerpoint are just like Eric's stale outlines. They suck. I think the best b school teachers are surprisingly happy sizzling the same pile of shit year after year, though.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:49 PM
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Nothing enlivens a philosophy discussion like marijuana.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:59 PM
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I don't think I can say anything interesting about Swift. Genuinely.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 6:59 PM
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Don't talk to me about improvisation. I've got an idiot in one of my classes, and apparently my professor has taken it upon herself to civilize him. It'd be noble except the same damn thing happened last semester too. Despite all my problems, I've never before considered murder, but when that motherfucker opens his mouth, how I long to shut it.

Don't talk to me about marijuana, either. I live in MA.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 7:12 PM
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78: I stated that point both too strongly and not clearly enough. What I mean is that, if all difficult texts serve is a desire in the reader to "be well-read," for some kind of bourgeois purpose of ticking off boxes, I figure one might as well throw one's tuition money in the crapper. And, unfortunately, that's how many really deeply interesting and provocative texts get taught, as something that's "supposed to have been read," as opposed to anything that might deeply challenge our senses of our place in the world, of ethics, of how we think and what we don't know, of why suffering goes on and what causes it, etc. If "Yeah, I read that" is the end (as in, the goal) of the conversation, then what a waste of time it is to read. It would be preferable for a person to spend that time doing just about anything else. I blame my profession, not the students subjected to it.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 7:20 PM
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Don't talk to me about marijuana, either. I live in MA.

What does this mean?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 7:29 PM
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What it means is that I grew up as a Bay Aryan.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 7:32 PM
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Ah. I thought maybe MA was in more of a crack-down mode than other states.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 7:37 PM
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80: You know, there exist those who don't give two shits about checkboxes. You could help them out with book recommendations once in a while, if you felt like it.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 7:40 PM
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more of a crack-down mode

Speaking of crack, looks like those people in Mississippi did Ms. 3AM dirt again.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 7:55 PM
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there exist those who don't give two shits about checkboxes

I read this as "cheekbones."


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:04 PM
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So they did. The good people of Mississippi have implicitly recommended to me one more book than AWB has. I will bear this in mind.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:08 PM
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86: Unfamiliar with the win32 API? Such are the wages of poverty in America. Tragic, really.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:13 PM
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No idea what you're talking about, babe.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:17 PM
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Teaching? Who cares? These are just undergrads, right?


Posted by: ed bowlinger | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:27 PM
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FM? Book of the moment for me is Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland. I defy you not to read it twice. It's fucking brilliant, and such a page-turner that you'll simply have to go back and read it again to catch all the details. Written in the late 1790s about a local true horror story involving the remorseless slaughter of an entire family. No one agrees on what it's about. I'm dying to write it up as a screenplay, as it's sort of like M. Night Shyamalan, except 200 years earlier and way fucking scarier.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:29 PM
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Plus, it's American, about rural Pennsylvania and cultish Christianity.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:33 PM
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Teaching? Who cares? These are just undergrads, right?

I don't know about the humanities, but it amazes me that the hard science profs don't get killed on a regular basis.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:38 PM
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Someone who has read Swift and can't say anything interesting about his work is worse than worthless; he's a fraud.

Damn it. Another month and I'd have had the dissertation finished. I hate you, AWB! I hate you!


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:39 PM
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80: What I mean is that, if all difficult texts serve is a desire in the reader to "be well-read," for some kind of bourgeois purpose of ticking off boxes, I figure one might as well throw one's tuition money in the crapper.

You ought to read the "Become a Cultural Millionaire" chapter in Tyler Cowen's "Discover Your Inner Economist". He explains how to see the most movies in the least time (don't watch the whole movie).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:43 PM
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95: That would lead me to commit homicide, which, as I understand it, is wrong.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:46 PM
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I haven't read Cowen's book, but what I have seen him saying is that people should be more willing to only read part of a book or walk out on a movie if they think they have something better to do with the time. I am totally incapable of this, as once I start a book I feel like a failure if I don't finish it, but it doesn't seem like terrible advice.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:51 PM
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But but but ... cultural capital is very important! Is it a case of: do it right or don't do it at all?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:51 PM
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I was feeling the same way about my course (architecture), so I'm re-doing all my slides this semester and using the Lessig Presentation method.

See an example done by Larry Lessig here:

http://lessig.org/blog/2008/02/20_minutes_or_so_on_why_i_am_4.html

In essence, it means a lot more slides, (white text on black background), with fewer words on them, and good photos thrown in as well. It's easier for the students to take notes, and less overwhelming, somehow.

So far so good. I'm getting better vibes from the students than I have in the past.

If that doesn't work for you, do what #57 says.


Posted by: mistersmed | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 8:54 PM
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76: Sorry to hear that, spaz. I know what you mean about the MBA students freaking out the moment something strays from the exact outlines.

I had a great teacher this term for a strategy course that's semi-required (probably taken by about half the MBA students, at least). He's taught the course for a few years now, several sections a year, and has the material down cold. He wanted to experiment this year by ditching powerpoint slides, making student handwrite their notes based upon his whiteboard work and the discussion, and by changing the course material a bit to root it in more rigorous microeconomics and game-theory. Unfortunately, it seems that the other students did not appreciate this change as much as I did. The prof actually bowed to popular pressure and stripped out a lot of the high-level theory and difficult homework problems after major complaints following the first few classes.

Poor guy, I hope he gets to teach the course he wants in the next couple years.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 9:07 PM
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Cowen pretty clearly was telling people how to get as much negotiable cultural capital as possible with the minimum time expenditure. It's one thing to say "If you don't like a movie, walk out in the middle". It's another thing to say "Arrange things so you have four film options, and see as much as you can of as many as you can." His system didn't forbid anyone to watch a single movie from beginning to end, but it was designed for someone who wanted to be able to chat about as many movies as possible.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 9:34 PM
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More recommended reading.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 9:44 PM
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Pomo - that's an interesting story. Probably 75% chance I know the person. Sorry it didn't work out. I think a lot of us are searching for ways out of the powerpoint straightjacket.

Mrsmed - hmm, I hadn't seen that Lessig approach before. It's very effective. I caught the beyond bullets emphasis on visuals a few years ago, but my students freaked when they stopped getting the bullet points to look at (I would hide them on alternate slides and put them on the web). I am convinced that in teaching we need a middle ground between pure visual - which doesn't compete for processing with the spoken word - and some emphasizing verbal points. Lessig's is a nice version of this.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 9:45 PM
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More proof that the MBA is a fake degree.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:07 PM
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Also, Labs, I'm coming out the other end of the mother of all slumps - new institution, very new students, new course taken over from someone who died, very unusual course structure. Plus personal crisis, my father died, unexpected third kid...

For me, getting through it took teaching something new, getting a handle on my life, and some counseling. I'm sure all you'll need is a bender with a prostitute during spring break. Or maybe a few nights of grand theft auto with a bottle of Jameson.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:11 PM
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Spaz: I announced on the first day of class that I wasn't going to post my lectures to the web. I have always done it in the past, but attendance was dropping off. The students somehow think that because it's posted, it's equivalent to an on-line course.

Then they'd bitch about the tests because there was content (spoken in class) that couldn't be found on the posted slides.

So students come to class now, and they take notes and pay attention. I haven't gotten any complaints about not posting to the web. The class has 120 students and I haven't had even one complaint. I expected to get a few.....

I really think it's the Lessig style. For some reason it's easier to pay attention. And it's more fun for me. I'm feeling much better about the course, after teaching it for 10 years and sensing a decline every year.


Posted by: mistersmed | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:11 PM
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More proof that the MBA is a fake degree.

No Ben, it may be fake learning but the degree is very real.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:15 PM
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There is much to hate about PowerPoint and the way it is conceived by Microsoft. It's very design leads to bad presentations, through an overemphasis on "bullet points, " and the promotion of visual clutter.

For more on why, see Edward Tufte's "Cognitive Style of Powerpoint" (Book review here: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/library/2051.html)


Posted by: mistersmed | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:20 PM
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I really think it's the Lessig style. For some reason it's easier to pay attention. And it's more fun for me. I'm feeling much better about the course, after teaching it for 10 years and sensing a decline every year.

Very cool. I may well give it a whirl next year (I've just wrapped up my teaching for this year).

Now back to editing my paper!


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:20 PM
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Check out the Gettysburg Address on Powerpoint for an idea of how bad it often is:
http://www.norvig.com/Gettysburg/index.htm


Posted by: mistersmed | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:24 PM
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This is the creeping cynicism that is slowly destroying my ability to enjoy anything, but Cowen's movie advice is so calculating that it strikes me as awesome.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:27 PM
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Probably 75% chance I know the person.

Almost certainly. It's Gentz/kow, who's done very interesting work on the media industry and especially media bias.

I think what nailed him this year was that the course schedule with all the descriptions did not specify that his course was supposed to be more rigorous this year, and students came in expecting the same easy stroll of a course that it has been in the past. There's no reason the course should actually be so low-work, considering that competitive strategy (five forces, strategic positioning, sources of higher economic rents, etc.) is so central to the curriculum and has so much interesting theory to dig into.

What I'm hoping happens, and what I suggested on the class evaluation, is that they turn his section of the course into a new course which is considered the more advanced version of the standard option and counts as a replacement in the curriculum. We already do something similar in Microeconomics, where Kevin Murphy teaches a couple sections each year that move through about 160% as much material and are more freeform than the standard sections, with just a lecture and a book of printed notes that capture the core material but require a lot of fleshing out.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:38 PM
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Holy shit, course course course course.

I'm, ummm... sick today?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:41 PM
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Five forces... of Wu Tang! Rigor is found in your tendons exploding!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-11-08 10:47 PM
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once I told my students that their papers were so bad that, desperate for any chance to put off grading, I had watched an episode of mighty morphin' power rangers that I had already seen before. they seemed suitably abashed.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 12:50 AM
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Alameida! I know I'm supposed to have a crush on you, and I do, but for all the wrong reasons. That sestina of yours was all it took.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 1:00 AM
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I think that counts as one of the right reasons.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 1:34 AM
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I worked for the managing editor of the Journal of Labor Economics, who also was Kevin Murphy's secretary, while at Chicago.

She was a Radiohead fan. Now it can be told.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 1:35 AM
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115: Okay, that's awesome. I'll have to remember that sort of thing if I ever teach again.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 1:44 AM
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Unfortunately I teach professional students where I'm expected to use powerpoint and hand out every slide I discuss in advance. They freak out if I add a slide or change the order of things.

we have this funny hang-up about wanting to actually learn the stuff, usually because something bad will happen if we don't know it. Please don't try to light any candles in our hearts, inspire us to become professors "just like you", etc; we have no interest in having our little urchin-like chins lifted up to point at the stars.

(currently in a rather bad mood precisely because I went on a course in which some ego freak decided to waste half the day on discussions and talking points. Fucking drawing games with cut out bits of paper. I swear he was going to suggest we perform a short "skit" before he caught the look in my eye).


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 2:38 AM
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By the way, am I the first one to note that in a day and age when you can earn $5500 an hour flat on your back, anyone still teaching college is a mug, particularly Labs? I really can't be bothered checking these interminable threads.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 2:52 AM
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Daniel, you don't want to learn the stuff. You want to learn the applications of the stuff to your professional requirements, which is a bit different. I agree that professional academics are probably the worst people on earth to do this sort of training, but that's something you should shout at your HR development people about, so they send you somewhere appropriate next time, rather than complain about educators trying to educate.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 3:09 AM
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You can earn $5500 an hour flat on your back

"You" is the key word here. In this context it doesn't mean you and me and Labs. Also, that's not net pay. Lots of overhead and management profit. Also, not flat on the back. At that price, guys expect a performance. Also, even in this biz only the 10-stars gross $5500.

It's true that prostitutes and people in finance earn more money than anyone here, however.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 5:24 AM
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It was more of a joke than a practical career proposition. If we all went into the prostitution business, we'd drive the price down (I did an business school degree, did I ever mention that?)


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 5:52 AM
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Dsquared, I'm not sure that you, I, or Labs could do even that. I doubt that we'd even drive the price of dildoes up. We'd leave the world exactly the same as we found it, I'm afraid.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 6:19 AM
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124-5: Gentlemen: This is not a time for idle speculation. The spirit of empiricism compels you to get out there and settle this debate.


Posted by: Anonymous Advice Seeker | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 7:22 AM
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Stupid remember personal info button...


Posted by: Anonymous Advice Seeker | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 7:23 AM
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I'm reading Leiter on Nietzsche and morality

That is a really good book, maybe the best I've read on the N-man. Leiter gets it.

--As for Cowen, people who follow his advice have been going around saying, "What's all this stuff about a milkshake in There Will Be Blood?"


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:05 AM
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we have this funny hang-up about wanting to actually learn the stuff

Oh, please, spare me D^2.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:16 AM
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129: but the context! That course sounds painful. Maybe he had to wear a stupid costume for the skit.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:18 AM
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I'll only believe it if he posts pictures.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:25 AM
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we have this funny hang-up about wanting to actually learn the stuff, usually because something bad will happen if we don't know it.

I suspect this is pretty funny to anyone who's taught on both sides of that fence.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:45 AM
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Dsquared's just being snarky because he flunked out of the trust-building workshop when he refused to fall back into the arms of his colleagues.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:50 AM
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I initially misread 133 as trust-fund-building workshop, and thought "mm, indeed."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:53 AM
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So thoroughly, in fact, did I concur, that I forgot to close my tags.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:53 AM
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I have to admit, when I found out how much she was going to get paid for the whole night, and that it's more than Spitzer pays me in a year to teach college literature, I was in the middle of teaching at the time, and was so baffled at that moment I had to do the math on the board for them. Just so they know how the system works.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 8:57 AM
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Yes, dsquared defends MBA students! I knew we could count on him. Is it too much to hope that he'll move on to defending powerpoint?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 9:04 AM
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we have this funny hang-up about wanting to actually learn the stuff, usually because something bad will happen if we don't know it.

Dsquared is studying to be a fire-fighter. He needs to know about backdraft, okay? Get off his case.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 9:11 AM
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I realise that I will never have a deep understanding of securities regulations, my passion for knowledge of them remains a dull ember and I can say nothing interesting about them beyond a dull enumeration of the relevant law. I don't think that the instructor brought his "pedagogy" holy water. However, the dull, lifeless simulacrum of education may yet be enough to keep me out of prison, god willing.

I would of course never defend MBA students. As I have repeatedly said on this blog, business education is a meaningless ritual which intelligent people unaccountably pay large sums of their own money for, the practice of management is no more amenable to scientific analysis than art or teaching, management consultants never do anything to earn their fees, and the massive increase in living standards which has coincided with the invention of the modern divisional firm is a pure chance - everything useful in the world has been created by "engineers" who magically organised themselves into work units for doing so, with nothing but hindrance and inconvenience from "marketing" people, who are actually not proper creative people at all but interchangeable "marketroids". Basically, everyone who knows damn-all about the subject is OK in believing that the "Dilbert" cartoons are literally true. I have, as I've regularly said, given up on you people with respect to this one.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 9:26 AM
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You're a consultant. Now can I have my dog back, please.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 9:30 AM
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securities regulations

see, this seems like a perfect place for some creative pedagogy. like self-organized puppet shows - something along the lines of punch and judy: "oh spitzer... come and see my pretty girls..."


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 9:54 AM
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141: you're a procurement system system that's just had a user created with overlapping purchase and accounting roles. Show us how you feel, without using words.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 9:59 AM
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I'm gonna dance an interpretive dance, using my PDA to symbolize my love.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 10:13 AM
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I can't decode which in 139 is sarcasm, and which is just hyperbole.

I have a friend who was a high-level executive at a Fortune 500 firm, and he always claimed that Dilbert was basically true.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 11:48 AM
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I can't decode which in 139 is sarcasm, and which is just hyperbole.

It strikes me as a bald statement of fact.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 11:51 AM
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You're actually more interesting when you say what you actually think about something, Dsquared, but we don't expect it of you. Mostly you just find something you dislike and ridicule it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 11:58 AM
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Apologies if someone has already made similar remarks, but FL's complaint reminds me of a story once told to me by a colleague, when I was a grad student in philosophy. She said that she was having such a slog with her class, so that one day, she stopped class, and remarked to them that she was not sure the class was working, and did they have observations. I am paraphrasing, but the point is, she was absolutely honest with them, and invited them to engage in a discussion about the dynamic itself. Apparently, the class took her seriously, and what ensued was a very frank discussion, as well as exploration of alternative ways of structuring the class. And it worked, and the class became more of a team effort. The fact is, as a professor of ours (Ogged's and mine, that is) used to say, is that, unless you are operating on the edge of what it is possible to say, then nothing is happening. There is a kind of brutal nakedness to teaching, which, if one is not willing to be naked, there is, literally, nothing going on. This is an ideal vision, of course, but not untrue. Another colleage of mine made a more practical suggestion, once, that works particularly well if there are many students. That is, to have half the class be responsible for discussion in each class, while the other half of the class is responsible for active observation, and commentary during the commentary portion. Then the halves switch for the next class. On a personal note, I had a bit of a tough class once, until the day I accidentally took twice the Tylenol cold medicine I ought to have (I think I forgot I had already taken some), which left me a bit lightheaded. So I said to the class, I am a bit lightheaded today, so I am hoping you all can help guide our discussion today more than usual. Since they perceived me as generally harmless, they actually rose to the occasion, and we had a great class. The point in all of this is ownership. Everyone has to own what is happening in the classroom. Another practical tip I learned: early in the semester, always assign a very short, intense writing assignment, and meet with each student to discuss it. This is time consuming, but pays off in the long run, because the students feel heard, and take ownership. Sorry to be so long-winded, and best of luck to you, FL, and all the other teachers out there. It is really you who are on the cutting edge of the future of all of us, doing the hard work. Personally, I could not hack it -it was too exhausting each day to be that naked. I used to wake in the night with the feeling that I had shards of glass in my throat. And so I switched to law, which is a cakewalk, and restful at that, after teaching Plato and Nietzsche.


Posted by: exbeforelast | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 12:09 PM
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EB4L: Is it true what we suspect about Ogged?

Oh, and thank you for your on-topic comment, too!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 12:28 PM
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I'm gonna dance an interpretive dance

Someone I know went to a conference on business and the environment in Germany where they began with an interpretive dance about Gaia. It's tough to keep a straight face when life devolves into sprockets.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 12:45 PM
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There is a kind of brutal nakedness to teaching

This reminds me too much of that annoying book by Parker Palmer.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 12:48 PM
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There is a kind of brutal nakedness to teaching

I am irresistibly reminded of Laurence Olivier's advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man after Hoffman had gone through a particularly draining set of Method exercises.

"try acting, dear boy, it's much easier".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 1:33 PM
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In all seriousness, 151 is right.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 5:28 PM
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152: I have to disagree. Not only was dsquared not "irresistibly" reminded of that anecdote, I argue he was not reminded of it at all, and in fact was tipped off to the anecdote's existence by shadowy forces we can't begin to comprehend.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 5:33 PM
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Oh, hey, it's ebl. Hi!


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 5:35 PM
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have a friend who was a high-level executive at a Fortune 500 firm, and he always claimed that Dilbert was basically true.

I wonder if the average quality of business execs is better in the UK. My 10 years at large corporations (two, to be precise, once telecom company and an internet) hasn't done anything but convince me that's there's a lot of truth to Dilbert.

I also present as evidence the original British version of The Office, where Gervase's insane character stands in contrast to the relative competence of the rest of management.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 03-12-08 5:41 PM
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Working in British companies, I've never really worked with any genuine 'pointy-haired' bosses. The closest I've come to that was a manager in an academic workplace, not a corporate one. There have been a couple of arseholes who were, however, pretty good at their jobs, a couple of incompetents out of their depth and one actual sociopath, but, generally, most people were OK.

I've worked for two really big corporations -- in fairly lowly positions so my information is limited to particular departments -- and both were, in general, very well managed. In one, my own department was pretty poorly managed, but it was a new department, underfunded, and one of the managers was, er, me. So I can't really complain.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-13-08 2:57 AM
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I've found pointy haired bosses, or more accurately low grade versions who lack even the panache of the Dilbert character, everywhere I've worked. The thing is, not all, not even most managers are like that, but you only need one or two in a division to act like sand in the gearwheels and fuck up the whole operation.

I've only had to deal with one fast track youth with an MBA. It was appalling until I shouted at him to fucking shut up and get out of my hair. After that I got on with my job, he did something else, and we got on fine


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 03-13-08 3:08 AM
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I've found pointy haired bosses, or more accurately low grade versions who lack even the panache of the Dilbert character, everywhere I've worked.

I suppose if we are talking low-grade version of same, so I have. But, I've never really encountered them in positions of real power.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 03-13-08 3:27 AM
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I have a firm "No Powerpoint" rule. And no class notes. Remarkably, I get more supportive comments than complaints.

I definitely feel the pain of the post. The comments about improvising have always worked well for me, and I sometimes find that the feeling of malaise is all in my head. One of my recent classes was like this, but when I got my evals back, they were higher than I'd ever got for that course before.

I've also done the complete honesty thing before, after my giving a midterm for which the mean was a 30. It definitely worked to get me and the students to understand each other better. The mean on the next exam skyrocketed to 50.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 03-13-08 11:15 PM
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