Assorted links

by on June 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 Aaron Aardvark June 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Re: #3. There is an article about this in the October 2010 issue of the Smithsonian. The article is “Defying the Godfather” and available at

2 JasonL June 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm

#5 Why does this make me more skeptical than ever about the 30 year outlook for China? I have this sneaking suspicion pandas and monkeys will be the inhabitants of many of those structures.

3 Rahul June 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Definitely no great stagnation in Chinese construction.

4 TallDave June 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Well, except for that high-speed rail problem. Any system in which someone can take $152M worth of bribes has some problems.

But yep, lots of low-hanging fruit yet to be picked between basket-case Marxism and the corrupt dysfunction of, say, Mexico…. which is still about twice as rich as China on a PPP GDP per capita basis. They’ve got another decade or so before they’ve eaten all the easy fruit.

And then they start getting old…

5 TD June 11, 2011 at 1:00 am

Just 3 of the listed 46 projects had anything to do with advancement of science and technology. But, then again the list is about infra-structure. Is there a separate list for investment in R&D?

6 Rahul June 11, 2011 at 9:04 am

Surely executing complex civil engineering projects IS technology?

7 dirk June 10, 2011 at 3:04 pm

“Why are you carrying a dead weasel?”


8 Andrew' June 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Q: “Why are you carrying a dead weasel?”

A: “We can’t very well expect him to carry me now can we?”

9 TallDave June 10, 2011 at 11:18 pm

I like the idea of a violent zoological vigilante pedant roaming the land down under, it’s sort of poetic in a Gary Larson kind of way.

10 TallDave June 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Police said the attacker answered, “It’s not a weasel, it’s a marten,” then punched him in the nose and fled.

11 Austin June 10, 2011 at 3:05 pm

It’s not a weasel, it’s a marten!

12 Ken Rhodes June 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Hey, I frequently mistake a marten for a weasal. It’s an easy error to make.

13 David June 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I had a colleague try out these techniques. The students hated it and her ratings tanked. Some very disturbing, like “it’s interesting that the Professor decided to quit teaching.” There is also some excellent commentary on how such a piece managed to find its way into Science… didn’t I see this here?

14 Andrew' June 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm

4. “The researchers dismissed the idea that their findings could be explained by the Hawthorne Effect” Kind of in the same way politicians accept full responsibility. I’m just about convinced professors are the last people to take advice from. Why? I usually have no no evidence that they were challenged by circumstances, let alone mine. At a grad student symposium we had a professor whose advice was “don’t get depressed and stop doing research.” That was it. Just ‘don’t.’

15 efp June 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Research into these methods has been going on for decades, particularly in physics. This probably only got into Science because one of the authors is a Nobel laureate.

I have also found the greatest resistance to innovation in education often comes from the students. Most of them are quite content to learn as little as possible.

16 David June 10, 2011 at 7:51 pm

I think the equilibrium between these techniques and conventional lectures is probably not a corner solution. A colleague in physics says he does a lot of this stuff already, but not exclusively. I also find the pre-quizzes very useful and low-cost way to get students to work, and most students realize they need some incentive to get it in gear.

For many, I imagine the current status quo is explaining what’s the textbook or what have you. But, sometimes that needs to be done.

17 Kathrin June 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Wouldn’t it make the most sense for Sicilian businesspeople to *both* pledge not to pay tribute to the Mafia and pay tribute to the Mafia? (The best way to do this probably being to keep it a secret from their fellow ‘addiopizzo’ non-payers.) And wouldn’t it make the most sense for the Mafia to sell these Addiopizzo stickers themselves (at a high price)? Both these possibilities seem to me more likely than the version that has the Mafia benevolently ignoring the non-payers.

18 Roy June 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm

No it wouldn’t make sense for the Mafia, when people appear to be getting away from making their contributions, the cost of collection will increase as other contributors misread the signal

19 PJ June 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Although I’ve experienced a variety of teaching methods in my time, I’ve never experienced any that rivaled that of a talented and intelligent person lecturing a class. When I hear about a new teaching method that is supposedly going to revolutionize how students learn it usually feels about the same as if I was hearing about the latest diet fad.

20 Andrew' June 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm

“I’ve never experienced any that rivaled that of a talented and intelligent person lecturing a class.”

What was that like?

21 Yancey Ward June 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm


22 Foobarista June 10, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I’m sure if weasels are involved, the teaching methods will be quite invigorating…

23 IVV June 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm

#1. (1/20)

24 Yancey Ward June 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Have you ever tried carrying a live weasel?

25 King Cynic June 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm

The NY Times article on this science lecturing study pointed out several serious flaws. I really don’t understand how it got published:

26 King Cynic June 10, 2011 at 5:56 pm

This NY Times article details several flaws in that science teaching study. I really don’t understand how it got published.

27 jk June 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm

We all know what happens whenever there is a huge boom in construction and an “insatiable demand” for something…

28 nostrum June 10, 2011 at 8:36 pm


Should we abolish formal lecturing, Tyler and Alex will have two choices: either to blong overtime or to consume more liesure in states where liesure consumption tax are attractive.

29 nostrum June 10, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Should we abolish formal lecturing, Tyler and Alex will have two choices: either to blog overtime or to consume more leisure in states where leisure consumption taxes are attractive.

30 Kevin June 11, 2011 at 12:08 am

The flaws the NYT article details about the study detailed in item 4. are the same kinds of flaws one can cite in most early studies of intervention techniques: subject dropout, less than perfect controls, potential investigator bias. BFD. That’s why studies that show dramatic results don’t get ignored, they get replicated in other settings, with additional controls. As someone with a couple of graduate degrees, and as someone who has taught in a variety of settings on a variety of subjects over the years, the study’s findings sound all too obvious. Of course an interactive, fluid, and hands-on approach will crush the kind of massive lecture-hall teaching that dominates our schools. The problem, I suspect, won’t be replicating these findings. It will be changing a system that has a vested interest in not changing.

I get the feeling a lot of skeptics about these results are actually groaning at the thought that they’ll actually need to engage their students instead of talking at them for 50 minutes at a time.

31 RR June 11, 2011 at 4:38 am
32 BS Buster June 11, 2011 at 10:47 am


It is a BFD. A Nobel Prizewinner is using his reputation (NOT gained for his expertise as an instructor) to bully people into changing the way they teach, based on flawed studies, while in fact little evidence exists that this approach really is any better than lecturing. And all you can do is appeal to anecdotes and tell us that we don’t actually need evidence?

Come back when you have a methodologically correct study on large groups that has been reproduced several times.

33 Kevin June 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm

@ BS,

Publishing a paper is bullying? Really? Is there that much resistance to even considering the renovation our education system? If so, I’m more depressed than ever. Like a lot of teachers, I’ve adopted some of the techniques described in the study. When one is interested in seeing success across a range of students, one quickly sees the limits the ‘lecture at the students and let them figure it out for themselves’ approach. With that traditional approach, an exceptional handful get something out of passive listening, usually because they’re already brighter and better prepared, and also because they enjoy the reading and rereading on their own time that that approach requires. The majority do what they need to do to get a passing grade, and a month after the class is over you’d be hard pressed to find that the class made the slightest impression on them or their knowledge.

I was blessed to have some innovative teachers, all the way back to grade school, who saw in me exceptional potential, potential that was wasn’t served by the standard teaching methods. I was distinctly aware that some of these teachers were doing something different and wonderful, and as a result I came to love learning and eventually got both an MD and a PhD. As an adult, I’ve come to the conclusion that some of those innovative, non-standard teaching techniques are also extremely useful for ‘average’ students, maybe even more so. The biggest problem is that these kinds of teaching methods require a more prepared and more engaged and better trained instructor. In other words, you have to be willing to work your ass off. Further, engaging students one or two generations younger than you can be scary for many teachers (there were hints of that in the NYT article).

But hey, if you’re happy with the status quo, keep yourself firmly planted in the peanut gallery.

34 Ken Rhodes June 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Kevin — I totally agree with your experience, both for the best students and for the average. However, there are TWO “biggest problems:”

(1) Finding the better trained, more prepared and more engaged instructors is one of them.

(2) But another big problem is that university courses, especially the core courses in the various departments, are frequently taken by LARGE numbers of students. Frequently they involve lectures by highly qualified faculty, who may meet your criteria for training and praparation, but who have little if any opportunity to engage, while class sections where small numbers of students can engage are taught by junior faculty or grad assistants. The engagement aspect of the instruction, by virtue of the numbers involved, thus has to be left primarily to the less qualified and engaged teachers.

35 Kevin June 11, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Good points, Ken, but on (2) I would say that, since those huge classes are lower-level core courses, junior faculty and grad assistants will usually be more than qualified to teach them, especially if they have gone though similar courses themselves (i.e., they’ll understand both the material and the techniques). My first teaching experience was running the practical physics class for non-physics majors when I was in the second semester of my freshman year. My biggest strength was my enthusiasm and my closeness to the material, and those bored upper class-men got much more out of my interactive demos than they did from the lecture portions of the class (which was with one of the faculty). And I don’t know why less experienced teachers would be less engaged teachers, as you seem to suggest. My experience is that if anything it’s the opposite.

I think the tough part, which relates to your (1), is bootstrapping the system so that both the tenured faculty (who might have little incentive to change their methods) and the non-tenured faculty begin using optimal teaching techniques. More and better research is needed to determine the range and specifics of those optimal techniques, but that won’t solve the difficulties of implementation. I don’t underestimate those difficulties, but I also don’t think throwing up our hands in frustration is a reasonable approach, either.

On a related note, I recall this list of recommendations to new junior faculty. Anyone whose been in a university teaching environment recognizes the truth of that list. Note how teaching effectiveness is so little valued on that list.

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