Posts in “Teaching”
I’m teaching our required Graduate Social Theory course again this semester. This year I decided I’d snub not just monomanical German system-builders but French Weberians as well. No Foucault for you! I should have started a “What, no x?” sidebet before posting it. In the syllabus, I present a justification for my sins. An excerpt: Like many programs in our field, Duke’s Sociology department requires its graduate students complete a one-semester survey course in social (or “sociological” theory).
I’ve written a few times before about how to choose the software you work with, and what you should and should not care about when making those choices. I maintain a page with various resources related to this, if you’re interested, most notably the Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences. A revised version of an article of mine on this topic called “Choosing Your Workflow Applications”, which I’ve had online for a while, has now been published in The Political Methodologist, the newsletter of the Society for Political Methodology.
Speaking of LaTeX, its author Leslie Lamport provides a guide to How To Present A Talk. It was written in 1979, but modulo a couple of changes its advice applies equally well today. For instance: WHAT TO SAY 1. Describe simple examples rather than general results. Try to make the examples much too simple—you will not succeed. Don’t use formalism. If your results cannot be described simply and informally, then there is no reason why anyone should be interested in them.
My periodically-updated guide to choosing your workflow applications has received one of its periodic updates. It has grown an abstract and more up-to-date stuff on backups and versioning. Plus extra jokes. Click through to read—you may have to reload it if you have an old version lurking in your browser cache. This release is officially named “Dime On You Crazy Shriner” in honor of orgtheory’s favorite pseudonymously-produced, bot-driven, stylistically-elliptical demisemisocblog.
Because Eric Rauchway’s book on The Great Depression and New Deal makes inordinately heavy demands on the reader, is filled with hard-to-remember facts, and spends too much of its absurd length wistfully discussing fashions in men’s suits and hats of the period, I have been looking for a brief video to show in its place to undergrads in my social theory class. It’s good to finally have found it.
Following on from our discussion of editing tools the other day, and in response to a couple of requests, I have updated and somewhat expanded my note about Choosing Your Workflow Applications. The revised version talks about which operating system to choose (to a first approximation, these days I’m agnostic), focuses on Emacs+R+LaTeX as an integrated set of high-quality apps available for free across all the major platforms, and then points to some alternatives (like Stata and various editors).
Despite being a contributor to this OrgTheory blog, my dirty little secret is that this past semester was the first time I ever taught a Sociology of Organizations course. Shocking, I know. It went OK for a first-time effort. Quantitatively my ratings were a bit below my average, but not worryingly so. Today, though, I got back the specific (anonymous) comments of the students, which always make for interesting reading. I broadly subscribe to Fabio’s view that evaluations are pretty informative.
Via Unfogged, a hall of fame note from a student: Dear Prof. AWB, I was in your British Literature class in the fall of 2006, and for that class, you gave me a grade of C. I need to have a better grade for this class. As far as I know, I got an 86 on the first paper, and I didn’t complete the second assignment. I don’t know what I got on the final essay or exam.
Graduate Economic Sociology seminar Undergraduate Organizations class
Tim Burke reads through the ACTA report, ‘How Many Ward Churchills’, which—so far as I can see from skimming it—makes very strong claims (“professors like Churchill are systematically promoted by colleges and universities across the country at the expense of academic standards and integrity”; “Ward Churchill is Everywhere”; “professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas in the name of teaching students to think critically”) mainly on the basis of inferences from course descriptions that they’ve found on the web.
John “Hannibal” Stokes at Ars Technica has some interesting speculation on what the new technology behind the NSA wiretap abuse scandal might be. Because he knows a lot about computers, he’s also in a position to explain to the likes of Richard Posner one of the (several) things that’s wrong with computer-automated mass surveillance: Just imagine, for a moment, that 0.1% of all the calls that go through this system score hits.
‘But pray, sir, why must I not teach the young gentlemen?’ ‘Because, sir, teaching young gentlemen has a dismal effect upon the soul. It exemplifies the badness of established, artificial authority. The pedagogue has almost absolute authority over his pupils: he often beats them and insensibly loses the sense of respect due to them as fellow human beings. He does them harm, but the harm they do him is far greater.
Picking up on an old item over at 43 Folders (this post has been marinading for a while), here’s a discussion of the applications and tools I use to get work done. I do get work done, sometimes. Honestly. I’ll give you two lists. The first contains examples of software I find really useful, but which doesn’t directly contribute to the work I’m supposed to be doing. (Some of it actively detracts from it, alas.) The second list is comprised of the applications I use to do what I’m paid for, and it might possibly interest graduate students in departments like mine.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden takes a contrarian line on a story about Michael Gunn, an English student who got caught for plagiarism but is now suing because claims he was not informed it was wrong and was shocked—shocked—to be told it was. “I hold my hands up. I did plagiarise. I never dreamt it was a problem” says the guy, “but they have taken all my money for three years and pulled me up the day before I finished.
I teach a course on 19th Century Social Theory [pdf] at the University of Arizona, of the kind often required of Sociology majors around the world. I usually begin with the question “How can there be a city as big as Tucson in the middle of the desert?” and go on to give them a sense of the differences between Europe around 1800 and the society they’re used to. Then we trace the development of the idea of the division of labor in the writings of each of the theorists.
There was a Doonesbury series a few years ago about a student who gets a B in a course, fears this will prevent him from getting into law school and sues his professor for future loss of earnings from a lifetime of corporate law. Well, now the Invisible Adjunct brings us a story that puts this philosophy into practice. Here’s the nub of it, from a Chronicle article: Coppin State College is poised to let at least eight students in its criminal-justice graduate program receive master’s degrees on Sunday even though they did not pass their comprehensive exams or write final papers considered acceptable by the faculty.
I just got my evaluations back for my classical social theory course. Students got to anonymously rate me on a scale of one to five on questions like “How effective was the Instructor?” and “Did you feel respected in this class” and “How difficult was this course?” and so on. They also got to write in additional comments, which I get returned to me with the average ratings. In general, I find that the students most likely to write something are the ones who either really love or really hate your class.