Tag Archives: ramble

Statistics and What They’re Good For…

Every so often I get an email from MUFON about something or other, despite not having given them any money for many years. The screenshot below is from the most recent of these missives.

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If you’ve listened to my recent interview with Tim Binnall for Binnall of America, you will have heard my opinion that there might be some interesting and useful statistical analysis to be done of paranormal type subjects.

I’m not entirely entirely sure that the above is the best type of statistical information.  What this tells us is that 84% of sighting reports in February were from the United States.  Telescoping out, we find that 90.4% were from the countries of North America (USA, Canada, Mexico).  Around 94% were from largely Anglophone nations (USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Bahamas, American Samoa, and Guam). The majority of the nations from which sighting reports arrived were (broadly) part of the “western” world.  To a lesser degree, the Northern Hemisphere dominated, with the global south less well represented.

This is not to discount the substance of the sightings, nor of the efforts of organizations like MUFON in collecting them. It does, however, suggest that these statistics, this collection of sighting reports does not tell the whole story.  And, as well, more than a merely quantitative analysis is fundamental for fleshing out these numbers. Crucially, MUFON makes details of these reports available for more qualitative analysis.

But these geographical breakdowns do show that there is—at least—a disparity in where reports come from, not necessarily where odd things occur.  This sort of data is useful to a point. The meat, I suspect, is in the stories, with the geographical data providing a useful framework for developing a grander view of scope.

On the other hand, I tripped and fell while running and hit my head the other day, so these thoughts may be as unfocused as I suspect they are…!

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Teaching- this turned into kind of a longish thing…

The recently ended 2013 Day of Digital Humanities was a great opportunity for me to take a quick look at what I do in a typical day and how “the digital” intersects with my work.

Being a full-time faculty member at a large community college, my work is first and foremost teaching.  This semester, I’ve got five sections (3 “traditional”, 2 online) and in all of them, I’ve been thinking of ways to change up what I’m doing.  Many of these potential changes involve digital things.  Since the next classes I’m teaching will be compressed 7 1/2 week classes, a rethink is in order, regardless.  Here are some things I’m thinking about (subject to change–few of these ideas will be set in stone before the first day of classes and, maybe, not even then).

Visual Dynamism

I really enjoyed using Google Earth in the classroom (see below) and the students seemed to be more engaged with historical data mapped over satellite imagery than they usually are with the maps that I use.  This got me thinking about other, more visually dynamic ways to present information.  Prezi, of course, is popular, but I can’t afford the amount of Dramamine necessary for me to cope with using it.  There are a variety of interactive timeline tools which may be useful as well.

Get the students to talk more

I’ve been teaching, in one way or another, for around a decade at this point and the biggest weakness I have is–without a doubt–encouraging useful discussion in the classroom.  Whether it’s because I like the sound of my own voice too much (likely) or because the mass of students are intimidated (or annoyed) by the usual handful of students who do 90% of the talking, it’s something that I need to work on.  One key, clearly, is to find ways to ensure that students are familiar enough with material to usefully discuss it.

Exams are terrible

I hate grading them, students hate taking them, and my assurance that they’re the best (or even a good) way to assess students is decreasing every semester.  In my online classes, I’ve been experimenting with weekly cumulative assessment as a way to replace exams in a manner that is relatively low-stress, but “high-yield” (yes, I think of student learning as a field full of soy beans).  It needs tweaking, but I may be on to something.  Or not.

Students, in general, seem to like history, hate history classes

I am, however, teaching a history class, so…yeah.  Problem here.  Working on it.

BlackBoard

Over the past few years, I’ve used both BlackBoard and self-hosted websites as a means of digitally-disseminating information to students as well as for recording grades.  This semester, I’ve been using Bb exclusively and while there have been headaches, the students seem to engaged with the material there more than they do on non-Bb sites.  Despite my usability concern with Bb and my desire for more open tools, I also have a compelling need to consider the students.  I’m still thinking this one over.

Omnia Mutantur

Everything changes, all the time.  What works one semester may not work the next.  What works one day might not work the next.  We often have to adjust and adapt to the students to whatever degree that it is practical.  If it is the students who must adjust to us, then we must provide tools to support and guide that change.  Often, we are in the position of having to not only teach our subjects, but also the skills of being a student.  These skills change over time.

These are disconnected thoughts, rather than a solution or manifesto.  There are dozens of books about teaching “today’s” students.  Some of them are worth reading, if only to argue with.  

This ended up longer than I expected.  TIme to hit the publish button and get back to work.

 

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Writing Stuff

Working on a tiny part of a large project that someone other than me is running.  Mostly it involves editing historical documents and writing some (fairly substantial) introductory material.  Of course, my brain being empty for the day, I’m writing about the writing than actually doing the writing.  That’s probably because I’m not—deep down—a “writer’ as much as I am a teacher who likes to write; this stuff comes much harder than it probably does for more writerly writers.

So, this project (which has turned out to be a little more involved than I initially thought) has—regardless of anything else—provided me the opportunity to explore some additional sources to use in my classes.  This writing (and the other writing I did over the summer—not just the book, but more bureaucratic and procedural stuff) has done a few things for me that I didn’t expect.

First, I completely rewrote most of my writing assignments for my classes.  Nothing huge, just clarifying expectations and streamlining the words.  I’ll be interested to see if the changes result in different, improved work from students.

Second—and this was not unexpected—is that the connections between my teaching and my writing (including writing that doesn’t directly bear on the subjects I teach) improve my teaching and, especially, my creation assessment activities.

A ramble, this, but one that clarified some things in my mind.  Thanks for tagging along, if you have been.

Now, back to work.

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