Archive for the ‘university’ Category

One Decisions I’m Glad I Didn’t Make

A couple of weeks ago Michael R. through facebook posted a link to the Chronicle of Higher Education called “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.”  After reading it was kind of thankful that I didn’t go.

Back in 2003 was I seriously considering returning to the US and getting my PhD. I had bought a GRE preparation book and I was religiously studying the math section for an hour to 90 minutes each day. I wasn’t worried about the verbal section. I had taken an online diagnostic test, I was perfect on the verbal section but so bad on the math that they had to create a new category for me called ignoramus. 

I was a bit surprised by that because I had taken the GRE back in 1992 in order to get into the University of Texas.  At that time I had held my own in the math section. Of course, if you don’t use it you lose it and I certainly hadn’t done any serious math since the math I had done to pass the GRE in 1992.

Of course, one thing about the whole GRE that still kind of irks me is that the 1993 test was no longer considered valid when I considered returning to graduate school in 2003. I’m not entirely sure why. One would think that over time one gets more knowledgeable, wiser and better able to handle the rigors of higher education; especially if one has already jumped through that particular hoop once. Obviously the powers-that-be don’t see it that way. The one thing I have learned from my years in Asia is that people who wield power love to make other people jump through their hoops.

Undaunted by the needless and irrational hoop jumping, I researched specific graduate school programs, and I even went so far as to contact Paul Matsuda directly at the University of New Hampshire to inquire about what my chances would be for getting funding. After an exchange of five or six emails, he said he thought my chances would be pretty good since I had experience in teaching in both ESL and EFL setting as well as experience within the specialization I was intending on concentrating on, that is, Second Language Writing for science and engineering.

Obviously being able to get my PhD at the University of New Hampshire would have been ideal in many ways. I grew up in the area so it was close to my family and very familiar to me. In addition I had spent a year and a half doing substitute teaching in many of the local school districts so I had knowledge of the local schools and probably contacts at many of them as well which would be helpful as the kids reached school age. I even looked into what it would take for me to update my teaching credentials as a possible fall back plan should the whole PhD thing founder for some unknown reason.

I was serious committed to the idea, but the major draw back and probably the main reasons why I decided not to do it was the cost of housing in the area. Although I was fairly confident that I would get some kind of funding to do my PhD, it would not be enough to support a family of four at that time in that place especially in a housing market which was on fire. Queue up Don Ho: “Ah those tiny bubbles…”  After racking up a significant amount of debt the first time I did graduate school, I could not justify doing it again.

Another contributing factor, but not the main factor, was the fact that America had really changed since I had left in 1997, and in many ways it had not changed for the better.  I just couldn’t see going back, raising children and working in such a negative atmosphere. Although living on the other side of the world sheltered me from the worst of it, I still couldn’t completely avoid it. We live in a globalized, information saturated and media obsessed world, so unless you crawl under a rock somewhere in Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard or dig your self a hole at 34.7°N 85.7°E on the Tibetan plateau (link / archive) the chances are pretty good that you cannot escape the influence of the rest of the world. 

Although I would like to blame 9-11 for this change, I know that it’s not the cause. It was merely an intensifier. I don’t think there was a single cause. In fact many American are probably unaware of the changes at all, because they have happened slowly over a long period of time. Even though there is no single cause, there are however lots of identifiable contributing factors. Some factors, like the establishment of the military industrial complex, go back as far as World War Two. Some other obvious contributing factors were Vietnam, Watergate, and disgrace of the Nixon administration. Thus, many of the factors that are influencing the economic, political, social and cultural aspects of American society today go back to the second half of the 20th Century.

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Serial Plagiarists

Every semester there is always a student who reaches a certain level of infamy among his or her professors.

One semester it was Capt. Moon who had his wife do all his work. Since she had not actually experienced any of the sample lessons it was impossible for her to reflect on them. Consequently she would cut and paste random comments about teaching and teaching practice, hand them to her husband and he would pass that in as his thoughts about what he had experienced. He also managed to have his wife plagiarize all his reflections on culture for Glenda.  

This semester its Marilyn O (BTW “O” stands for OHMYFUCKINGOD!) She’s a serial plagiarist as well, but she is perhaps even worse than Capt. Moon. He, or his, wife at least did the readings for Materials Development; because he/she actually read the text since the answers were taken straight out of the coursebook. Marilyn, on the other hand, didn’t even bother to copy the answers out of the coursebook. She would plug the whole guided reading question into Google and cut and paste what ever she found. Sadly she didn’t even bother to read or skim what she had found because sometimes (most of the time) the results wouldn’t match the spirit of the reading.

However, she did learn from this, because in culture with Glenda instead of plagiarism she used Babblefish, an online translation program, to translate a reflection on stereotypes. Here’s a few samples from her work:

With the devastation which poorly of the metropolises follows prejudiced because like this from bankruptcy the black themselves short median life expectancy, the social pathology which reaches to the human unhappiness of high crimes and drug abuses and all types occurred.

Now does not write the word which is an unwed mothers from the world wide various countries and not to be the word which is single wool adopts. The unwed mothers alone are competent fostering and fostering boiling of the usual child, many Koreans it naturally, accepts.

Decimal racial group happen about prejudice the research of most the loach was advanced a focus.

Glenda’s in-paper comments for the above were: “I have NOidea what you are trying to say here.” Glenda wondered if this was too harsh. Both Dave Boesch and I, after reading the passages, assured her that it wasn’t. If fact I think “What the fuck?” would also be appropriate.

Some background information on Marilyn O: She is an art curator who is in the TESOL certificate to improve her English. She is very busy because she works, is married with children and supposedly has recently become pregnant again. Her husband who cannot speak English helps her with the ideas.

If she is trying to improve her English, I am not sure if a TESOL Certificate Program designed to teach teachers how to teach English is the right place for her. The program assumes a high level of English has already be attained. We interview all prospective students to ascertain their English proficiency, so I’m not sure how she slipped through the interview process, but she did. Interestingly, I’m not sure how she thinks she will improve her English if she doesn’t do the work.

Capt. Moon and Marilyn O are fairly common. I have been teaching in Korea for over ten years and there are several students each and every semester who beleive that they can get away with plagiarism. It doesn’t matter if you tell them ahead of time, which I have done every semester since 2000. My first few years in Korea I assumed that submitting one’s own work was the norm and that Korean had better ethics than to pass off someone else’s writing as their own. I guess I was a bit naive, but I have learned.

I can remember one paper that was submitted to me by a student at KAIST. He didn’t even bother to synchronize the fonts and font sizes. It looked like a kind of crazy quilt except it was supposed to be an original essay. When you confront the students about their plagiarism, many don’t even realize that it is wrong. When I ask the questions: Would you do this in a Korean class? They usual answer, “Yes, all the time.”Consequently, I want to blame the education system which focus on rote memory and knowledge retention. Since the system down plays student’s ability to synthesize, organize and apply the knowledge they have learned. When given tasks that require them to actually use and process what they know, they struggle.  Because they struggle to organize their own thoughts and ideas, they, in desperation, turn to the Internet and take whatever they can find to submit for their assignment.  

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

The Internet Age is Getting Old

I was reading today on CNET how IMDb turned 18 this week. The blogger pointed out:

“You may not have thought it was possible for a Web site to be older than 14, since the Web didn’t even come along until 1994.”

Actually I didn’t think that. I assumed it was older only because I was assigned my first email address soon after I arrived at Indiana University. I’m not sure of the exact year, but I think it was either in my freshman or sophomore year; it was more likely to have been in my sophomore year so that would have made it 1987 rather than 1986.

The Honors Division prophetically decided to assign all its students an email address and they also selected several courses that would require use of email and a Usenet which had been set up for the course.

I remember I decided to enroll in one of these courses, I don’t remember the exact title, but it was something like “The History of Technology and Society.”  I decided to enroll in it for several reasons. First it was an afternoon class; I wasn’t much of a morning person in college; second the class was in Sycamore Hall where all my Philosophy classes were held, so it would save me valuable commuting time; and finally I had taken an Honors Division and LLC course at Collins the previous semester entitle “Art and Social Change.”  I had really enjoyed analyzing how ideas circulated through society and how they were often either promoted or demonized for political and/or religious reasons. I undoubtedly suspected that “The History of Society and Technology” would mirror much of what I had observed in the previous class.

I still remember my first email address Many of you are probably wondering why on earth I would devote valuable brain space to such a nonsensical monstrosity. Unlike the email programs we use today, the dos based programs that we used back then required the user to fill in all the address fields. I must have typed that email address a thousands times in the 2½ to 3 years I had it.

Based on those early forays into cyberspace, I always assume the internet started back in the late 80s and networking a little before that, because I remember our high school having a mainframe that was accessible from the library. I also remember taking a computer programming class back in high school in which the computers were linked in a diasey chain configuration. We were using TRS 80s to learn simple programming; something I didn’t excel at but Russell did. And then I remember, in the wake of all those seminal Apple ads , getting my first computer the Christmas of 1984; it was a Vic20, and I think my best friend, Russell, got like a Commodore64 that same Christmas. We both got machines that were either discontinued (Vic 20) or about to be discontinued (Commodore 64), but they were, nevertheless, personal computers. To think that the 20 and the 64 stood for the memory: 20 kb or 64 kb. I routinely get emails that are larger than the memories of those early computers.

Computers and nascent networks have been in my life for more than 20 years; approximately half my life. My students say I am getting old, so I guess that means that the internet is getting old too, since it was born while I was coming of age.

Friday, October 17th, 2008