Today’s youth is too willing to throw away the lessons of the past in favor of what’s new. This disturbing propensity is nowhere more prevalent than in the areas of technology, and especially computer technology. That’s why I’m so pleased to have discovered a new web application framework, based on a time-tested, classic language:
Archive for April, 2008
Posted by Tracy Poff on April 21, 2008
Posted by Tracy Poff on April 15, 2008
Yesterday, I wrote about Dr. Sharman Lichtenstein’s rather uninformed criticism of Wikipedia. At the time, I was worried that the general public wouldn’t recognize the flaws in her statements, and that the press would end up repeating it uncritically.
However, I came across two new articles today, each responding to Dr. Lichtenstein: one, a post by Christopher Dawson to ZDNet Education, rebuts Dr. Lichtenstein with the usual points (students shouldn’t be using any encyclopedia, and should be using more than one source), and makes a comment that closely mirrors something I said in the comments of my blog post. He writes:
I’ve become a big fan of the word “discerning” lately. I think it applies to so much of what our students experience online, so here’s my use of the word for the day: Students must become discerning consumers of information. Telling them not to use Wikipedia doesn’t cut it. Teaching them to use a variety of sources of information and to critically examine the information they encounter on the Web is a lifelong skill that we have a responsibility to teach.
This is exactly what I and many other Wikipedians have been saying for a while now. Wikipedia’s unreliability, far from being a hindrance to teaching, ought to be taken as an opportunity to educate students to evaluate all of the information they discover, whether it comes from a supposedly reliable source or not.
Second, a post to Techdirt by Mike Masnick, which makes pretty much the same points. A nice quotation:
Furthermore, in a bit of pure irony, this professor doesn’t seem to realize that by making all of these incorrect statements, she’s showing just how little you can trust supposed “experts” in the first place. After all, she’s going on and on about trusting “experts” over the masses, while showing that she doesn’t even understand how Wikipedia works at all, showing her own wrong, incomplete, biased and misleading positions.
Seeing that people recognize the flaws in Dr. Lichtenstein’s statements is really reassuring. With any luck, this particular sort of misinformation will die out in the not-too-distant future. However, I’m under no illusions that more misinformation won’t replace it. We’ll just have to keep on reading things critically, I suppose. How perfectly awful.
Posted by Tracy Poff on April 14, 2008
I’ve been seeing reports in various places over the last few days that Google is going to start indexing ‘the invisible web’–web pages that are hidden behind HTML forms that Google normally couldn’t index. They intend to do this by submitting some typical queries to the forms that seem to be search forms, and crawling through menu options.
This is a great idea, and the problem of how to decide what is a ‘typical’ query seems like an interesting one. Google’s approach seems to be to use text that’s present on the site that contains the form, which is probably as good a method as any. I do wonder, though, whether it would prove worthwhile to have someone manually (or semi-manually, anyway) generating queries on sites that are known to have a lot of information behind forms, like government websites.
I hope that this idea proves useful, and I look forward to better and more comprehensive search results in the future.
Posted by Tracy Poff on April 14, 2008
I’ve just come across a fairly annoying little article about the use of Wikipedia by students, written by Rodney Gedda and focusing on criticism of Wikipedia by Sharman Lichtenstein, associate professor of information systems at Deakin University.
If you are faced with the prospect of having brain surgery who would you rather it be performed by – a surgeon trained at medical school or someone who has read Wikipedia?
That’s the view of Deakin University associate professor of information systems Sharman Lichtenstein, who believes the popular free encyclopedia that anyone can edit is fostering a climate of blind trust among people seeking information.
Dr. Lichtenstein has some fairly odd ideas, though, in my opinion. For example, she is said, in the article, to be leading a team of researchers looking at how Wikipedia operates, but she is then quoted:
“People have invested a lot in becoming an expert and they are trying to earn a living and you can’t expect experts to contribute without pay.”
I wonder how she and her team of researchers missed the large number of experts that we do have contributing–without pay, even. Perhaps she blindly trusted some critics of Wikipedia, rather than checking it out for herself.
The article refers to Wikipedia as a “‘web of trust’ network”, which betrays a misunderstanding of either Wikipedia or the meaning of ‘web of trust’. Fortunately, we have an article to help them out.
Too, she seems to believe that Google is going to put articles from Knol at the top of searches:
“Google Knol is supposed to be a competitor to Wikipedia that will involve experts, and because it’s Google, search results will appear above Wikipedia entries which are quite often the first result,” she said.
I do not know in what world she lives that it could be considered a good thing for Google to give preference to its own products in search results, but fortunately it is not the same world that I live in.
She also seems to think that Wikipedia editors are some sort of elite group, and that our notability policy promotes discrimination and elitism. Well, the whole point of the notability policy is to discriminate among possible topics for those which ought to have articles, and as for elitism…
There are quite a few other odd bits in the article, but I’ll leave finding them as an exercise to the reader. It shouldn’t be too difficult.
Posted by Tracy Poff on April 14, 2008
Alexandre Borovik at Mathematics under the Microscope has posted a letter Donald Knuth sent to the Notices in March 1998. In it, Dr. Knuth proposed teaching calculus using big O notation. I certainly think that students could benefit from calculus being taught differently, but I admit that I don’t know what changes ought to be made, or whether Dr. Knuth’s proposal would be beneficial.
Whether the O Calculus idea is used or not, the letter is worth reading: it is always beneficial to explore other ways of doing and understanding things.
Posted by Tracy Poff on April 3, 2008
Inside Higher Ed has a story about Dr. Laurence Thomas, a professor of philosophy at Syracuse University, who walked out of class–twice–because a student was sending text messages. One Syracuse student responded to this by saying:
“We the students are the customers, the consumers, the ones who make the choice every day to pay attention or not. I pay approximately $30,000 to go here, whether I text in class or not….”
I’ve seen this sort of attitude mentioned on other posts at Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education, though I haven’t encountered it personally. In the comments on the story, several people support this view, and several oppose, though none for the reason that I would.
If someone told me that I was entitled some particular sort of service from my professors because I was their customer, or because I was a consumer purchasing education, I’d feel rather insulted. I am not a consumer or a customer of any sort; I am a student. I do not attend the university to purchase anything, but rather to improve myself, under the guidance of my professors.
Another point that some commenters argued is that college professors deserve no special respect that is not equally owed to the barrista at a coffee bar. I might agree with this comment, granted that the barrista has dedicated several decades to becoming an expert in the field of coffee-serving–comparable respect may be earned by comparable deeds worthy of respect.
I hope that the next time someone fears that my rights as a consumer are being violated, he’ll keep it to himself. This sort of trivialization of education just leaves me feeling rather ill.
Posted by Tracy Poff on April 1, 2008
A class today brought to my attention the fact that most college students don’t appear to have a very clear idea of what plagiarism is, or why citations are needed in scholarly work. This is unsurprising, given that studies show that high school English teachers, who are meant to be instructing them on just this topic, seem to have a fairly shaky idea of what constitutes plagiarism, too.
First, it is my observation that students seem to equate plagiarism with copyright violation. While it’s true that some cases of plagiarism involve copyright violation, the relationship isn’t so simple.
A copyright violation is an act which violates a specific legal code–in particular, USC Title 17 in the United States, though the particular infringing acts are likely to be infringing in most countries due to international treaties. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is a violation of moral principles–a crime against academic integrity. It’s more like trademark law, really, than copyright law. Plagiarism occurs (broadly speaking) when one misrepresents another’s work as one’s own. While this could be done by simply copying parts of others’ work verbatim, even paraphrased work, which would not violate the copyright of the original author, ought to be cited properly–paraphrasing work does not make it your own, after all.
Today I heard students suggest that using a figure (e.g. XYZ Movie grossed USD 50 million in three months) without citation was plagiarism. Not so. Failing to cite a fact like that is sloppy work, but not plagiarism. The key element is that this fact does not involve any sort of creative work or any significant original research to discover. It’s like listing a person’s (well-known) date of birth; nobody would think that you were the one who originally discovered this fact, so by failing to cite it you do not mislead anyone into believing that it is your own work.
This isn’t really a topic I can get terribly worked up about, though. I shall, perhaps, in the next few days, write a post describing my opinion of students’ knowledge of copyright law, which should be more interesting.