I teach on Tuesday over at the University of Tokyo. I make a new course each semester to keep myself sharp and draw in some students again. The students visit the first week and choose. I get a great mix of students with high proficiency in English and others from abroad (Todai has more foreign students than most universities).
Dad is reading a new book called “The American Way of Eating” about the diet in America and how industry has influenced it. It got me to thinking about the progression of my courses over the last few years. Here is what I wrote him.
The American Way of Eating looks really good. I teach a class I call “Hamburgers and Rhetoric” where we look at books, movies (documentaries) and software games, and how they persuade people. The common link is McDonald’s. Se we start with Fast Food Nation (the book, I assign the movie for extra credit), then go on to Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald’s for 30 days), then we do the McDonald’s Game (at Molleindustria home of many Serious Games).
That morphed into another course about “Documentaries and the Truth” Where we started with Super Size Me, then went onto Food Inc., and the Cove, then Temple Grandin. If they made a documentary about The American Way of Eating, it would be in this class too. I would recommend Food Inc as a precursor of TAWOE.
That has morphed into “How to Lie Cheat and Steal with Numbers in English”. In HTLCASWNIE, we look at numeracy, or numerical literacy and critical thinking. We look at big and small numbers, then how to talk about numbers, then we look at different ways to represent numbers (infographics and visualizations), and then finally, how to use statistics and numbers to change people’s perceptions.
These classes are for my University of Tokyo students, the ones who go on to rule the nation. I think it will be a really good course.
Now that I have the skill set we are going to target in the class, I am working on collecting examples from media. The topics are falling into a list of “what not to talk about at a party”. Sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, politics, religion, money, race, and education. Will keep you updated on how it goes.
Seth Godin has written a collection of ideas against education in its current form, called Stop Stealing Dreams. As I read through it, I find resonance with a lot of the online courses, especially the ones that are large and network-based MOOCs like #Change11), in a lot of his writing. Idea 65, for example, is The Smartest Person in the Room. He quotes Dave Weinberger. Turns out it is not a person at all, but the room itself. The network that enables it. That is my goal next semester in my classes. Build networks.
This week we have just received an assignment that is more like a challenge. We have to create a “learning artifact”. Still not sure what that is, but he also gave us a bunch of resource links to go along with the challenge.
We are supposed to use this learning artifact as a tool to illustrate many dimensions of the learning (and teaching) process, or even IF it IS a process. We take a step back and look at the a whole simplified picture from many angles.
OK, so I teach languages, or, as a Professor in the Department of English Language and Communication, that is what I am ostensibly doing. Problem is, I don’t think I really CAN teach anyone how to speak English. This is not personal. I don’t think a language is really teachable, at least not in the traditional academic sense. I now use most of my time with students trying to develop curiosity, and then ways to sate that curiosity. That first part is by far the hardest. But goes with the territory.
So, like languages, but a lot simpler, I’ve decided that my learning artifact will be “how to use chopsticks”. Like language learning, it is usually done as a child, and when accomplished, becomes completely automatic, but everyday. Some people don’t learn it as a kid, though, and therefore have to learn it a different way. I’m looking forward to this.
Great timing too, as I just finished my grades for this semester, I may even be able to join the synchronous sessions, for only the third time this year (here in Tokyo, they start at 2 AM usually.)
New York is going to publish (as in local newspapers) the ratings of public school teachers. So the bad ones, who don’t care, will simply do their supermarket shopping down the road. The ones who do will leave. Note that student, or administrators, are not subject to these same measures. Bill Gates has come out against them in an IHT (NYT) opinion piece. The illustration at left is from the article.
While I think having billionaires tinkering with education is a bit frightening, most notably with the promotion of people like Michelle Rhee, some do have a rational take on the situation. Mr. Gates shows that here. What we do know positively that now is the time for experimentation. If you aren’t trying anything new, you will be marginalized in the near future. More on this at Hack Education.
OK, not really. But I am going to take one class at Stanford. OK, not AT Stanford, but through Stanford. Stanford has generously opened up some of their classes to people outside the university, for study online. It will have the same lectures, the same activities, the same quizzes and tests, and the same interaction as the for-credit students will get. It is free, but does not carry any recognition. For a guy like me, who is a professor, and no longer needs any more recognition, this is pure learning.
I will be taking the course in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). I am very excited, because it looks like I will be able to freshen my programming skills while applying them to an area of development that will help me create materials for my students, and students outside my classes as well.
I hope to chronicle my adventure here. I will also keep you up on my other MOOC course, Change11.
Really excited about the opening of the collaboration between Pearson and Google to make OpenClass, an LMS built for the web. Out this week some time. Part of Google Apps for Education. Will update when I get it.
When we say “the other half” usually it is poor or middle class people referring to rich people. But here, I am saying that all of us in Tokyo live so close together, with so much concrete and so many people, it is hard to imagine how some people with lots of sky and lots of space and lots of time, can live. It changes how they see the world and see each other. Let’s travel to Marfa, Texas. There, they have a group of very interesting people in what LOOKS LIKE a boring town, but it is not. Take the 5 minutes to watch what people do there. (via BoingBoing)
Over at BoingBoing, Mark Frauenfelder found cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt’s advice on getting things done. I like most of them. Execute dumb ideas beautifully is especially interesting. Another is “Don’t worry about how good it will be, just make it and do your best.” Words to live and learn by.
Looking into the future, or prognosticating, predicting, punditry, or guessing, is a skill. Recent results from a study at Hamilton College shows that some are better than others.
“We discovered that a few factors impacted a prediction’s accuracy. The first is whether or not the prediction is a conditional; conditional predictions were more likely to not come true. The second was partisanship; liberals were more likely than conservatives to predict correctly. The final significant factor in a prediction’s outcome was having a law degree; lawyers predicted incorrectly more often. Partisanship had an impact on predictions even when removing political predictions about the Presidential, Vice Presidential, House, and Senate elections.”
So there you have it. Conservative lawyers are the worst. Liberal economists are the best.
I teach Rhetoric and Hamburgers, a class about how to convince people about eating things like hamburgers. I start with a book, Fast Food Nation, then do a movie (documentary) Super Size Me, and finish with a computer game (McDonald’s).
Two interesting posts related to this topic came to me while browsing at Slate. One is about a guy that went on a beer-and-water diet for lent (40 days). Another is about violence at fast food restaurants. The more I see, the lest I like about fast food. My next movie is Food, Inc. Even better than Super Size Me.
People are uneasy here. The aftershocks continue unabated, now more than 1,000 since the big one March 11. We had 3 in one night, strong enough to wake us up. The epicenters are moving south, near Chiba, which is about 30 miles to the east of us. Fortunately, no significant damage has been reported. Our house, about 35 years old, is holding up all right. The spring rains have also come, and the school year has started up in most places. Julia spends a lot of time watching TV and reading.
One thing I do note, is that people are talking about their situation on the day of the quake. The topic of conversation quickly moves there, much like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” kind of conversation. People are now making the before/after distinction, and although there are no big changes here in Tokyo, there are a lot of small changes. The streets are no longer lit by neon signs as much, and many of the escalators in the public transportation are turned off, all to save electricity. Right now there is enough power to go around, but come summer, with the load air conditioning puts on, it means there may be new blackouts. Tokyo Electric is ramping up their production, taking old coal-burners out of mothballs, and (more seriously) postponing scheduled maintenance on some nuclear powered plants. There is a small movement to try to shut down all the vending machines, which would reduce usage to manageable levels. Here is a before and after of downtown Shibuya near where I work.
Maki and Julia had a wonderful time in Hawaii for our niece Ruka’s wedding. They spent 5 days at the Moana Surfrider hotel with Ginger and Anri, in from Colorado. Maki’s sister, her daughter-in-law Jazelle and her son were also enjoying the meet. Ginger rented a van and got people beyond the confines of Waikiki. I’ve only heard a few stories, Julia and Anri fell asleep about 9PM. More later.
It’s been a month since the earthquake. Maki and Julia just returned from their trip to our niece’s wedding in Hawaii. About 2 hours after their return, we got a 7.1 shaker, pretty significant. I had time to get to the front door and open it (good), and Julia looked for the cat (bad). Just had another shaker, not quite as big. We have been getting them more regularly, but this is an increase in the frequency and intensity.
As rescue efforts get organized and more effective, the body count is rising more rapidly. We are still discouraged from travel to the area, and there seems to be a large government effort at restoration beginning. The construction industry, long the most corrupt part of the economy, have lined up to make sure that they are included in these relief effort. Very few outside companies are being considered.
April 11th, 2011 | Category: culture, Japan | Comments are closed
I started school today. For my third-year students I have an activity where we look at how much each class session costs them. We divide tuition (about ¥1.2 million, or US$14,000) by the number of classes in a year (usually around 400, each 90 minutes). They usually guess pretty closely to the ¥3,000 ($35) price for each session. But then we add room and board (another ¥1 million) and lost opportunity costs. We define those as if they could work their part-time jobs 40 hours a week, instead of studying. That adds another ¥2.4 million, more than tripling the per-class cost to a total of more than ¥11,000. That is about $130 per 90-minute session. For each student. Sure, I explain they also get the office staff, the library, our Boston Campus, and 3 other retreat centers, the Career Advisory staff, etc, etc,. But they get the idea.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. At the end of the class, I gave the students the option of using their laptop computers in class with our new wireless system, or the other option of a paper-only class. I told them web-based activities would be more interesting, and that they could learn much more, and more quickly. Most thought that carrying their laptop into school was too much of a burden. So we are using paper. (I have 3 classes where they don’t get the option, they HAVE to bring their laptops. At least they will get some muscle tone.)
Because of the electric situation, we will be finishing our semester 2 weeks early, just ast he really hot weather kicks in, and the air conditioner usage surges, causing rolling blackouts (but not in our area). I think it may have been that the university saw everyone else getting a late start, and wanted to get in on the inaction. The students cheered when they heard the news. So we have both administration and students working the system to get something for nothing, or, more accurately, less for the same.
Showa Women’s University has a new set of goals for general pedagogy called The Seven Seeds. These are the first goals here in my 20 years which I can really endorse wholeheartedly. Let me list them. I may talk about them in more detail later on. (Japanese in parentheses). I’ve added some notes to each to show how we do each seed in my classes.
The Seven Seeds in Ryan’s Classes (ゆめをじつげんする七つの力: ライアンの授業)
1. Live a Global Life (グロバルに生きる力) We study using the Internet, and make contacts with people outside of Japan to give you a global viewpoint.
2. Use a Foreign Language (外国語を使う力) English, of course.
3. Use IT Effectively (ITを使えこなす力) We use IT tools in almost every class. That is why you should bring your laptop to every class.
4. Communicate (コミュニケーションをとる力) To learn a language you have to use a language. You have to communicate with it in real situations that are important to you. Follow Ryan’s SMAT system:
Speak English: You can’t learn if you are quiet. It’s uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier. Make Mistakes: If you are perfect, you are not learning anything. Ask Questions: This means you have to be an active learner. Always thinking. Take Notes: This helps by combining listening with reading, speaking with writing.
5. Be a Critical Thinker and Problem Solver (問題を発見し目標を設定する力) Don’t believe everything you read. If it is to good to believe, it probably is. Solving Problems is the best way to learn. We have many task-based activities in class.
6. Be Active, keep one step ahead (一歩踏み出して行動する力) Always keep busy. Fill up those little 3-4 minute gaps with small learning activities. Manage your own learning. Classroom time management because we have so many activities.
7. Be Yourself: Understand your priorities (自分を大切にする力) Understand what you want to do. Understand what you CAN do. Set some goals. Long term goals and short-term goals. Make a list and check it off. We do a needs analysis for each class in the first session.
The buds are plumping here in Tokyo ready to burst forth in their frothy cascade of pink and white effervescence, evanescent impermanence, tantalizing with their bouquet. The days warming, the nights still a little chill, but one of 3 bedcovers are folded up.
OK, OK, too poetic. But you get the idea. Spring has sprung. Or is about to.
The winds are now favoring us, but as the counts of sieverts (a German scientist) and bequerels (a French scientist) make me wonder how the Europeans measured, the Americans built and used, then spread the nuclear tool to countries like Japan. A worldwide concern, but in our back yard. We have the radio on most of the day, but pay little attention any more. It is easier for me, with the announcements in Japanese.
I scoff at the Goldman Sachs employees, so well paid, ready to flee, having to be ordered to stay here in town. No loyalty, only raw Darwinian economics, self-interest at the core. Did you know Adam Smith wrote a companion volume to his economic masterpiece, The Wealth of Nations? In a prequel, designed to lay the groundwork for Wealth, he set the stage with The Theory of Moral Sentiments. They should be read as a pair. The Goldman people, indeed many economic schools after Keynes have ignored the moral element of economics.
But enough of abstracts. Three weeks after the earthquakes, organizations like the 3,000 strong JALT (Japan Association for Language Teaching) has been able to find about three fourths of its 250 members in the quake affected area. Many groups are mounting donation drives, aware that as the media attention subsides, so does the money. This is slated to be the most costly disaster on record, in economic terms. The loss of life is only now hitting home here.
The biggest news for those of us in education is the change in schedules. My daughter goes to 6th-ranked Hosei University, and will have her spring vacation extended until after Golden Week, the break we take the first week of May. Many other schools are doing the same. Not mine, though. We start tomorrow. Some part-time teachers without as much anchor here have left, so there is a scramble to fill empty slots at the absolute last minute. I expect to have my class load increased. I don’t mind, but will have to watch that this not become an excuse for adding permanent responsibilities. Already there is talk of using the disaster to increase consumption taxes from 5% to 10%.
Fear and uncertainty are making everyone jumpy. I don’t look forward to the first day back.
Blackout coming in about an hour, got to get this off, and eat dinner a little early, another dark evening with the Kindle and flashlight. A little warmer makes it nicer.
Magnitude 3 Stupidity
Dread yesterday, followed by wonder this morning. The newspaper reported radiation ten million times the normal in the water off the nuclear power plant. Fear lead to a kind of social shock here. Then today, the power company TEPCO announces they made a mistake in the measurement, off by 3 orders of magnitude (1,000x). The wonder this morning is how they can screw this up so badly, and still be able to fix the problem.
The rolling blackouts are having a pronounced effect on business. Especially entertainment or non-essentials, like restaurants. In the area most frequented by foreigners (Roppongi), it is starting to look like a ghost town.
The only good news is that Anri is having a great time. I am going to copy an email she sent to me because it sounds like a typical teen. Remember that English is not her native language. I am guessing she will probably kill me for this…
hi i just wanted to let you know what we’re up to in portland OR. I rode the air plane by my self for the first time, and it was way easier than I thought! The signs were really clear so i ever got lost and I just chilled in Mcdonalds till the plane got ready. The frontier plane was super new (4-5days old) and shiny. there WERE TV screens but they weren’t installed or whatever so we couldn’t watch them which was a bummer… but i met a family who were sitting next to my seat and we had a nice talk on the plane. i met Chrissy and Jeff right after I left the gate and we went to the Saturday market to look around town. We tryed going to a Theater to watch the Black Swan but they we’re all 21 or over so we just ended up having Taco Bell (first time for me!) and going home, and watched Shaun of the dead. This morning we woke up early and headed up to Seattle (3hrs). I met Chrissy’s friend Bruice, who is an hippy artist. He was a really interesting guy. We met up with Sasha and her Boyfriend Dan for Lunch and went to The Pike place market. I got a lot of pictures so check facebook out and i’ll e-mail you soon again. Chrissy nor Jeff dosn’t have skype but I’ll try to find a way to call mom,but if not, ill just e-mail you everyday.
March 28th, 2011 | Category: culture, Japan | Comments are closed
Really windy today, cool too, so that means the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. People have asked how we manage not to stress out here with all the doomsday scenarios. With typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, mudslides (rivers with steepest vertical drops), tsunami, forest fires, sandstorms (yes, we do have a place for that), blizzards, ice storms, and suffocating summer humidity, Japan is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.
We deal with it in two ways. Prepare and lower expectations. When I arrived here, I thought the maniacal attention to detail, obsession with insurance in every aspect of life, from double bagging groceries that are already wrapped in cellophane to my triple coverage on my job loss due to incapacitation, was unwarranted. But when you see redundant systems popping up all over, and those being tested by nature and man-made disasters like nuclear leaks and poison gas terrorists, you start to see why working a little harder, and taking more precautions than you think necessary is a prudent investment in your future.
The lower expectations is demonstrated in the popular phrase “shou-ga-nai” which means “it can’t be helped”. Some rail against this as a form of laziness in Japan, but I see it as healthy. People are not as insistent on heroic measures for the infirm elderly, preferring a quiet dignified passing with the knowledge that the end would come soon anyway, and there is nothing to extend a quality life. This “letting go” allows people to focus on things they can prepare for.
So we have a country that follows the AA motto without even thinking. (Serenity to accept the things I can’t change, strength to change things I can, wisdom to know the difference).
This has all gotten mixed up with the book I am reading, David Brooks’ The Social Animal. It’s main thesis is that the rational conscious mind is build on top of the unconscious affective mind, and that we need to learn more about the foundations, which requires new tools to understand. He is persuasive in his arguments that the rational French Enlightenment is inferior to the British Enlightenment which makes room for emotion. He goes through a lot of scientific literature on the brain and neurology to make his point. He wraps it in a story of a couple that grow up in different situations, meet, fall in love, and become happy leaders.
Japan has always paid a lot of attention to feelings, unconscious, and has been trying to balance that with the rational. Every culture seeks a balance. I see a lot of psychological capital wasted in the US with frustration, expectation, fear and loathing. I see that here too, but focusing on our relationships is not something, it is the only thing.
Sadly, Japan’s remarkable economic rise has lead to a decay in this priority, and while we are all comfortable, many are adrift, lost in technology, materialism, or simply ignorance of the social aspect of living. Some see these disasters as a time to rectify those priorities. We will see a hit on economic health, but the fraying of the social fabric will cease as we knit together the country again. Japan is girding itself as we speak to repair the destruction and in the process learn to live better.
Sorry to get all preachy there, but these are things that have been running around my brain. Back to the day-to-day.
Our department decided to do a small graduation ceremony in a small hall on campus tomorrow, but without a party. Not as much pomp and circumstance, but more intimate. I am looking forward to it.
We were scheduled for 2 blackouts today, but the 5 groups were subdivided, and our smaller group (5D) is exempt unless there is an emergency. People have been voluntarily reducing usage (we haven’t used our living room since the earthquake) so that these emergencies are not realized.
Excerpt from US Embassy letter to expats in Japan:
Availability of Potassium Iodide Tablets: As a precautionary measure, the U.S. Embassy is continuing to make potassium iodide (KI) tablets available to private U.S. citizens who have not been able to obtain it from their physician, employer, or other sources. We do not a recommend that anyone should take KI at this time.
Safety of Tap Water: …the water in Tokyo is safe for drinking.
Julia is off to work today and tomorrow. Watching American Idol we realized an interesting progression in birthdays: Stephen Tyler March 24, Dexter the cat March 26, Julia March 28 and Anri March 30. Stevie Wonder sang for Stephen Tyler, Dexter gets a double portion of cat food. We will take Julia to an Outback after shopping tomorrow (Starbucks and Kindle for me). Anri will be in Portland for her birthday, with Chrissy and Jeff, who know how to have a good time.
Julia will be a teen for only 3 more days, then will become an adult. She went to a ceremony at city hall for all those turning 20 this calendar year. But now she went to get her picture taken by a pro, and here are a couple of shots of the results. Last night she went out with friends to a drinking place. Precocious as always.
Can you tell I am avoiding preparations for the new school year which starts next week?
March 26th, 2011 | Category: culture, Japan | Comments are closed