Category: teaching

You can teach yourself

Tara Westover gives the Big Reveal about education

My parents would say to me all the time: you can teach yourself anything better than someone else can teach it to you. Which I really think is true. I hate the the word “disempower,” because it seems kind of cliché, but I do think that we take people’s ability to self-teach away by creating this idea that that someone else has to do this for you, that you have to take a course, you have to do it in some formal way.

It took me a long time to learn that you take courses to find out what you don’t know, so you can go study up on it, and organize your self-study.

Tip from Joanne Jacobs, who I’ve neglected lately.

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Feynman’s 4-Step Learning Process

Richard_feynman

From the man who showed up rocket scientists, a simple checklist:

  • pick a topic you want to understand and start studying it
  • pretend to teach your topic to a classroom*
  • go back to the books when you get stuck**
  • simplify and use analogies

Exactly the technique I use to “get smart” on lots of stuff I should know, but don’t.

Tip from Old Remus at the Woodpile Report (report #553).

*Pretend, hell!  Wiggle that topic into your course syllabus, and commit yourself to teaching it.  Nothing sharpens your studies like trying to create a coherent lecture.  Or two.  With a supporting homework assignment.  And quiz or exam questions.

**There are gurus out there, go talk to them.  I’m lucky to work at a university, where many are right down the hall.  I have yet to meet an expert unwilling to speak about his area of expertise.  Often at great, nay overwhelming, length.

Ooo, ooo! I have a better idea!

Those wily Brits have identified some major stumbling blocks in their education system:

Schools are removing analogue clocks from examination halls because teenagers are unable to tell the time, a head teachers’ union has said.

Teachers are now installing digital devices after pupils sitting their GCSE and A-level exams complained that they were struggling to read the correct time on an analogue clock.

TheClockmaker

It gets worse

Earlier this year, a senior paediatric doctor warned that children are increasingly finding it hard to hold pens and pencils because of an excessive use of technology. …”It’s easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they’re not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil.”

My remedy?  Establish some simple prerequisities: if you can’t hold the pencil, or read the analog clock, you fail the exam.

What a bunch of lightweights.

Tip from the GeekPress.

When all you have is a hammer…

…everything looks like a nail.

Daniel Lakens, the 20% Statistician, takes a rare but easy shot at statisticians and null hypothesis significance testing.

Our statistics education turns a blind eye to training people how to ask a good question. After a brief explanation of what a mean is, and a pit-stop at the normal distribution, we jump through as many tests as we can fit in the number of weeks we are teaching. We are training students to perform tests, but not to ask questions

He defines

…the Statisticians’ Fallacy: Statisticians who tell you ‘what you really want to know’, instead of explaining how to ask one specific kind of question from your data.

My favorite is the two-tailed test of the difference of two means, which can provide evidence that the two are different, but not that they are (nearly) the same.  My runners up are goodness-of-fit tests, which do no such thing.  Sometimes I feel like I’m selling the researcher’s version of Snake Oil, rather than teaching sound data analysis and interpretation.

Lakens closes with an excellent addendum, a reference to David Hand’s Deconstructing Statistical Questions,  which goes into much more detail.

Seven Pillars

Wisdom hath built her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.  –Proverbs 9:1

I just finished Stephen Stigler’s The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom, and I’m daunted–and embarrassed that I waited so long to read it.  Stigler gives us a structure and taxonomy to statistical thinking* that gives us the “big picture” of statistics.

StiglerSevenPillars

Quite a difference from the descriptives-to-inference-to-models approach that most textbook authors follow.  This is making me rethink how I approach my introductory courses, especially those for statistics majors.  I’m starting with a baby step: adding the (inexpensive, paperbound) book as a required reading in my statistical research methods class.

*the 7 pillars: aggregation, information, likelihood, intercomparison, regression, design, and residual (and that’s just the table of contents!)

Some Hard Stats about University Teaching

Thinking about becoming a university professor?  Read Kevin Birmingham’s “The Great Shame of Our Profession” before making definite plans.

A 2014 congressional report suggests that 89 percent of adjuncts work at more than one institution; 13 percent work at four or more. The need for several appointments becomes obvious when we realize how little any one of them pays….

According to the 2014 congressional report, adjuncts’ median pay per course is $2,700. An annual report by the American Association of University Professors indicated that last year “the average part-time faculty member earned $16,718” from a single employer. Other studies have similar findings. Thirty-one percent of part-time faculty members live near or below the poverty line.

queueingtheadjuncts

It’s amusing to think of all the underpaid university adjuncts striking for a “living wage.”  Unfortunately, the pool of potential “scabs” is way too deep for any strike to be effective for more than one semester.

Of course, not all disciplines have the same problems.  My department is chronically desparate to find enough statisticians to teach all our courses, and I’ve been comfortably esconced in a non-tenure track job for over 15 years.  But statisticians are rare birds, and everyone I’ve talked to allows as how it’s far too late for them to swot up on their math and stats to become employable.

Tip from the Instapundit, who knows exploitation when he sees it.