Posted by: clholoman | November 22, 2013

We Are Family

Believe it or not, this blog still exists. This fall has been crazy at work, for reasons many of you are aware. But I stir again for a brief (and off topic [ed. note: there's a topic?]) post.

I am blessed by a great family that are all accomplished in their own ways. Two of my three brothers blog, and one is very nice for today:

My oldest brother curates and contributes to a musicology blog and today offers a personal perspective on the Kennedy’s essential contributions to the arts:

For those of us who lived nearto, the Kennedys’ Camelot, where it came to good music, is as clear and true a memory as Leonard Bernstein and the Young People’s Concerts. A fond recollection of national intelligence and taste and beauty—yes, glamor. Something, indeed, of lasting consolation.

My younger brother also blogs about a variety of topics, some of particular interest to folks in our home town of Raleigh, where he still resides, others more general.

Caution: he posts with about the same frequency as I do: http://abercom.com/daveblog/

They are both terrific writers (as is our other non-blogger!) and I am proud to have them all as brothers.

Posted by: clholoman | October 7, 2013

That time of year again

It is a (minor) tradition of this blog to note the opening of the new Supreme Court session, traditionally the first Monday in October. Well, here we are!

It looks to be an interesting term, with a lot of potentially interesting cases, but perhaps no real “blockbusters.” Adam Liptak has a nice rundown in the Times. But even this construction points back to one of the difficulties with reporting on the Supreme Court (or perhaps the law in general.) I’m not convinced that these cases are less “blockbuster,” but just that they require some more explication than some of the recent high-profile cases. They seem to me, as simply an informed layman, to have major implications, but turn on a less-than-obvious legal question or connection.

So, more than a lot of areas, it seems to me, we really rely on good reportage of the court (not to mention the fact that we can’t see what actually transpires in the courtroom.) And I sometimes think we are kind of at the end of a great era. As noted before, the two grand dames of SCOTUS reporting, Linda Greenhouse and Nina Totenberg, are, respectively retired but still writing, or still reporting but seem to be ramping back. Liptak strikes me as a solid reporter, but hasn’t really found a voice yet. Jeffrey Toobin does good work, but mostly in long form articles or books. (This good analysis is representative of the kind of background work that some of these big cases need.) My personal favorite, Dahlia Lithwick, has (like Greenhouse) broadened her scope, so can’t really be called a SC reporter anymore. (But be sure to read her very important article/preview about how many of the cases turn on how much the Court respects precedents (the concept of stare decisis) and the opinions of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in particular.)

But maybe we’re just entering into a new, not necessarily worse, period thanks to blogging, easier access to documents, etc. If you really care about the Supreme Court, you keep up with SCOTUSblog (and yes, they also have a twitter feed.) It’s practically real-time documentation and analysis of virtually everything the Court does. It’s really a microcosm of what’s happening in journalism more broadly.

Which (kind of) leads to one thing to note, if you haven’t already: as the Court itself has become more technologically sophisticated (and that’s a pretty low bar) it has succumbed to the problem of “link rot”: about half of the links to citations in opinions are broken. This is a non-trivial problem, isn’t it? (Here’s a nice Liptak summary.) This might lead one to broader musings on the nature of knowledge in the digital age.  Do things disappear from the internet, or do we just lose the index, if you will? Imagine how useless a big library would be without a filing system and a card catalog (and with none of the books having an index.)

By the way, have I complained yet about how ads have starting appearing in my blog? I have no idea why–I may have hit some threshold of “followers,” but rest assured, I didn’t do it and don’t get any revenue out of this (that’s a hilarious notion in itself). Sorry about them, though. I don’t like them, either, although I recognize their necessity (I guess.)

 

 

Posted by: clholoman | September 2, 2013

Farewell to a giant

How’s this for a life:

  • Have the most cited law review article of all time
  • Have a basic theorem named after you, pretty much inventing the field of “law and economics”
  • Win a Nobel Prize–the first law school faculty member anywhere to do so
  • Live to 102, and be productive, by all reports, up until close to the end

RIP to Ronald Coase.

Here’s a very brief summary of his most famous article with a link to the whole thing.

Here’s his faculty profile, not yet updated with his death.

Note that he also taught at UB for a bit and they gave him an honorary degree a few years ago. I will gladly ride his coattails as one of a fairly small group that have both UofC and UB ties.

Posted by: clholoman | July 26, 2013

MOOCs. part 2

Several smart columns also came out yesterday scaffolding (am I using that new jargon right?) off the Slate article. I’ll link them below.

So if MOOCs aren’t the answer to student learning or costs, what then? I think the right answer is access, but not necessarily in the way that term is usually meant. If you grant the premise that on-line delivery cannot (and therefore should not) completely replace more traditional models, then some of the grander claims of on-line fade. What I have in mind is more the ability to expand offerings within a traditional framework–providing access to coursework that colleges, especially small ones like ours, may have difficulty providing. And in a strange coincidence, as I have been writing this, an example of a sort has come into my e-mail. Around commencement season, there was a widely read editorial in the WSJ that suggested, among other things, that most college students would benefit from taking a coding course. (Thanks to colleague CD for finding the link.) This does seem like the sort of material that could be delivered effectively on-line, especially if, as at some schools, there is a local contact that might convene a group every so often and provide other support. And lo and behold this was in my inbox: Coding course finds ‘sweet spot’ between MOOCs and colleges. (Note that this model, if colleges have to hire the “mentors,” doesn’t necessarily save huge amounts of money, especially if they have to buy a license for the course, as seems to be the coming thing.) Some version of this is in our future, I think. It is nicely captured in Jeffrey Selingo’s new book College Unbound: the future of higher education and what it means for students. (My colleagues must think I get a cut of sales, given how often I’ve referenced this book recently.) As Selingo points out, colleges are one of the last purveyors of a bundled product and, like airlines, will be forced sooner, rather than later, to unbundle.

The difficulty, of course, is that, unbundled, the pieces of the college experience add up to much less than the sum of the parts. Higher education is about much, much more than a vehicle for collecting narrow competencies. And over and over again, employers report that it is precisely these “soft skills” (an odious term) that employers report they value most highly: communication, critical thinking, teamwork, ethics. What a surprise: we’ve ended up at the value of a liberal arts education! This is not to say, of course that we can’t do better–we can and must. MOOCs and on-line tools can be used to enhance face to face education. Faculty should be spending more time in facilitating discussion and other reflective and active experiences that allow students to gain the skills mentioned, not delivering lectures whose content can be made available in other ways. That’s our comparative advantage as we must exploit it to the fullest. (And we have to help our students realize this and be prepared for the job market.)

There’s obviously a lot more that could be said about this, but that’s enough for now. Here are some more links:

College Professors are about to get really mad at Obama

Are on-line classes failing America?

The MOOC that roared (interesting “success” story, except that Georgia Tech may be cannibalizing itself.)

We’re all to blame for MOOCs (“The widespread abandonment of the title “college” in favor of “university” demonstrates the preference to be perceived as “universal” and research-oriented rather than as a “collegium” drawn to a unique scholastic endeavor rooted in place and history. Higher education is becoming increasingly monocultural as demands for geographic (and market) expansiveness take precedence….a better path for those institutions that want not only to survive but to flourish, by refusing to go along with the monoculture. Those are the ones that have, or are seeking to recover, their distinctive institutional identities[.]“

Posted by: clholoman | July 25, 2013

We have met the enemy and he is …

me? At least according to one author. The issue is on-line education generally and MOOCs in particular. If you somehow have missed this development, an article in Slate today gives a nice background and, to me, accurate, albeit opinionated, view of the main issue–can these types of classes provide an effective student learning experience? (Although one sentence may be misleading: “The term was coined by a group of Canadian academics in 2008 to represent a recently invented type of online class that depends upon small group interactions for most of the instruction.” While I don’t have any reason not to believe that, it is certainly not the way the term has been used for the past several years. The author notes that the term has been “appropriated,” but doesn’t indicate how inaccurate that definition has become.)

Put another way, are MOOCs a solution, and if so, to what problem? I don’t think the answer is “student learning” at least not broadly defined. So far most of the data suggest that students fail to finish (the average completion rate for MOOCs is less than 5% right now) or don’t learn as much as in a traditional class. Much is being made of the result published last week that in a MOOC offered for credit at San Jose State, the failure rate was above 50%. (Note that the completion rate was very high, however–83% if I remember correctly–giving credence to the notion that most people don’t finish MOOCs because (a) they usually haven’t paid to take them and (b) there is not a tangible product at the end.)  Now, I do think that MOOCs and the like can be effective and have a role to play. We’ll return to that.

If not learning then, what? The obvious answer is costs. MOOCs are seen by some, at least in the myth, as a way of cutting costs and/or enhancing revenue. This article from the Chronicle yesterday is getting passed around a lot, it appears. It is in this version that I am the enemy. According to the author, on-line education is being rammed down the throats of faculty, students, and employers by administrators egged on by politicians: “Clearly, the online train that threatens to roll right over us has an administrator at the throttle, gleefully pushing the handle toward “full power.””

I dunno. The author is at a community college and leaders there face different pressures, especially direct interference from politicians, in ways that I am not familiar with. And we do need to control our costs–the demands to lower student debt, lower tuition, etc. are getting louder every day. But I have not heard many  of my colleagues looking to MOOCs as a significant solution to the cost problem.

This is only about half of what I want to say about this, but I will save the rest for tomorrow, but don’t look for a nice, clean answer.

Posted by: clholoman | June 20, 2013

Random cool stuff

I should probably add a new category for posts “stuff I think is cool” because there really isn’t another rationale for these items (although both have novel dynamic maps, and maps are a sub-sub theme of this blog.)

I wish I knew more science, but this blows my mind anyway. An animated map of the universe; each of those dots are GALAXIES!

The video is about 17 minutes long and some of the narrator’s English is a little hard to understand, but you can get the drift. And check out this blog post for the background.

Next, this very nice piece of journalism/storytelling. I have no real idea when this was published; not recently I don’t think. But I just stumbled on it yesterday. It’s a pretty interesting story, but it is really compelling, to me at least, as a great example of how to use multimedia. The video interviews don’t add a lot, but the animated maps that unscroll synchronized with your reading of the story is great. Again, this wll take you a while to work through.

And finally, this just came across while I was writing this. Steven Colbert’s touching tribute to his mom:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFJWGG53aYk

Posted by: clholoman | June 14, 2013

This post is very meta-

Here’s a very imaginative way to get a little primer on the power of metadata. In the discussions of recent revelations about surveillance, it is sometimes suggested that concerns about privacy are overblown, because “it’s only metadata;” in other words, it’s “only” who you called, not what you talked about.

But here we see that some basic info can be manipulated to generate powerful findings–in this case about the role of Paul Revere in the Revolution that has been obscured by the “midnight ride” story. But, as the author alludes to, the more nefarious next step is making leaps of “guilt by association.”

The writing here, setting the post in the 1770s, is really quite clever. I particularly like “At this point in the eighteenth century, a 254×254 matrix is what we call “Bigge Data”. I have an upcoming EDWARDx talk about it. You should come.”

But there are other interesting things at play here, too. I have been fascinated since my undergraduate days by historiography–how one does history. And this use of modern sociological tools to get at historical knowledge is pretty cool, I think.

And finally, the always interesting question of how history is told–great man, social forces, etc.– is illuminated in the article noted at the end of the blog post:

It is impossible not to notice the elaborately sculpted hills of the founding fathers in the historiographical landscape of the American Revolution. Overshadowed by those hills in the backdrop are the vast heath of the Unknowns and the occasional glades of the middling characters that had played various supporting roles. Such selective memory, after all, has always been the way in which histories are written. However, failing to be evenhanded in allotting historical recognition is one thing; missing the underlying historical process is another (Fischer 1970; Stinchcombe 1978).

Posted by: clholoman | May 16, 2013

From the Foreign Affairs desk

A couple of nice bits from Foreign Affairs, which I quote with some regularity. Unfortunately, they have put much of their content behind an expensive pay wall recently, but I think you should be able to see these two.

  • A good set of brief reflections on the work of Kenneth Waltz, whose passing was noted below. The one by Richard Betts (the professor, not the Allman Brothers guitarist) in particular, gives you a nice feel for the strengths and weaknesses of Waltz’s work. (Even if they did kind of steal my title.)
  • A very smart post by Dan Drezner (again) that really capures my feelings about Paul Krugman perfectly, while also performing quite a takedown of Michael Kinsley. I’ve followed Kinsley a long time and think he is very smart. He also deserves lots of credit for being an early proponent and provider of quality on-line content as the founder of Slate.  But here he has fallen into the pundit’s trap of going one step too far and in doing so, gone from a reasonable, if not terribly exciting, point, to a more provocative conclusion that is just wrong–in this case, on both economics and history. (Note that this all is tied, in part, to the dust-up about austerity brought about by the article noted in my 4/16 post below.)
Posted by: clholoman | May 13, 2013

Requiem for a heavyweight

Requiescat in pace to Kenneth Waltz, one of the true giants in the field of International Relations. As this post from one of the most widely read political science blogs notes, he wrote two incredibly significant books; they basically set the structure of debate in IR theory, at least in the ’80s when I was in grad school. And while neorealism has not been able to completely fend off challenges, it remains, I suspect, the most widely held theoretical approach, particularly among policymakers and others not inclined or accustomed to wrestling with theoretical nuance. My recollection is that Theory of International Politics would be accessible to the non-IR scholar (unfortunately, my copy is either mis-shelved or has been absconded with, so I can’t double-check.)

But IR theory can can wait for another day. We pause to salute the passing of a great scholar.

Posted by: clholoman | May 6, 2013

A Spoonful of sugar

At the risk of going full geek, I commend to you Matthew Yglesias’s series on the economics of Game of Thrones (or Song of Ice and Fire, as the book series is titled.) The most recent entry is here, and you can follow a link there back to previous posts.  I’m not sure how enjoyable they would be if you weren’t at least a bit familiar with the source works, but I still think they might be entertaining in using traditional economic concepts to think about a complex fictional world. And if you are watching (or reading) it is a fun supplement and an easy way to learn some economics.  I’m not as convinced by this last post, as I don’t know where he gets his data on the welfare of peasants in the North, but it is still kind of cool, at least to us nerds.

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