Sunday, September 16, 2012 | Categories: Episodes
Education Mail: We devoted an hour last week to an exploration of how the internet is revolutionizing higher learning, with Ira Basen's documentary, The Big Disruption: Universities in the Digital Age. This week, we tackled your mail. There was a lot.
Andrew Hacker: The noted academic tackles a sensitive topic: Is Algebra necessary?
CS Richardson: The award-winning author discusses his latest, The Emperor of Paris.
For more information and music used in this hour ...
The idea of online learning in the company of hundreds of thousands of classmates, struck a chord with many of you. Here's some of your mail.
Rudi Aksim from Carp, Ontario writes ... "The MOOC business model is certainly interesting ... give the information for free, but charge for the accreditation. Rather like giving away inkjet printers but making money on the print cartridges. But if we're going to give students credit for these courses, the elephant in the room is the evaluation of student learning. What's needed is a focus on the learning rather than the teaching -- and that's where the current model is broken."
William Clegg of Gabriola Island, BC writes ... "The primary purpose of educational curriculums all across this country ... and frankly all over the world ... is simply to make people employable. Not to make people more informed, more empowered, more effective communicators, problem solvers and managers of their governmental agencies. Simply employable. Ask anyone why they should obtain a higher education and, invariably, they will say "to get a better job. It is often opined that a student's failure to learn is the fault of the teacher. Small-minded thinking, limited political agendas, misdirected priorities, badly designed curriculums and poorly funded students and resources are the real failures."
Edward McFarlane of Ravenna, Ontario took issue with the potential for profit for MOOCs. "We were told that the impediment to the development of these courses was the problem of figuring out how to make a profit off them. It should be pointed out that the country that does the best in educating its people by far is Finland, according to UNESCO and a number of international studies. University education is free in Finland, and to top it all off, they spend less per pupil than we do. So much for the need for profit making and large student debt."
Robert Browne of New Westminster, BC, writes ... "I taught chemistry for 40 years at the college/university level, and I was an early adopter of educational technology. I was using the Internet in my classrooms in the late 1990s, and watched as educators tried to figure out how best to use this powerful tool. It would appear that more than a decade later, they are still looking. The fact remains that over my entire career, in spite of all the technological innovations, my most effective teaching was done in my office, dealing with one or two students at a time."
And finally, Professor Arnold Ages of Toronto said the documentary brought back some fond memories. "Ira Basen mentioned a Professor Harvey Goldberg at the University of Wisconsin. I encountered Professor Goldberg myself as a graduate student in the early 1960s at Ohio State University. His fame on campus was so great that students from diverse disciplines would descend upon the lecture hall for his presentation on the French Revolution - an excerpt of which you presented on the program. I have never seen before or since any lecturer who could talk without notes for an hour and a half in a perfectly sequential, logical and dramatic ordering of the material he was delivering. I learned that Harvey died at a premature young age while he was at Wisconsin - a great loss to the academic world and to the art of teaching."
Is Algebra Necessary?
September is always very special. Throughout our adult lives, we never forget that season when the whole world seemed new. Scrubbed and polished, with shiny new shoes and pencil cases, we set off on an academic adventures. There is nothing quite like that combination of apprehension and optimism that is the beginning of a new school year.
In Michael's case, there was, however, one dark cloud looming over every back-to-school semester. It was the knowledge that in the middle of that adventure ... the tales of ancient civilizations, the great works of literature, and the scientific discoveries that awaited me ... there would also be math class.
Despite his best efforts ... honest, he tried ... he never got more than 50 in an algebra test.
This summer, Professor Hacker has been at it again. And the controversy he has stirred up may be just as intense.
He penned an editorial in the New York Times with the title, Is Algebra Necessary?
In it, he argued that while we all need basic math skills, addition and subtraction and so forth ... it is not obvious that we all need to know the sorts of advanced algebraic formulas that are taught in today's schools and universities. The essay managed to provoke both the undying gratitude of some readers and a hornets' nest of opposition from others.
Dickens considered it the most extraordinary place in the world. James Joyce described its "racecourse tension." James Thurber called Paris a "post-graduate course in Everything."
And now, the city of light provides the backdrop for a delightful new novel by Canadian writer, CS - Scott - Richardson.
The Emperor of Paris is an inverted love story ... the novel begins where the story ends, and ends where it began. Two lives cross repeatedly, though the lovers scarcely share the same page ... Octavio, a baker's son who cannot read but collects books obsessively - and Isabeau who hides in books after a disfiguring childhood accident.
This is Scott Richardson's second novel. His first, The End of the Alphabet, was an international bestseller. It won a Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2008, was published in thirteen countries and translated into ten languages.
Which is all the more remarkable since his day job is as an award-winning book designer at Random House Canada. He has designed over 1,500 books in the 25 years he has been in the book business, many of which have won awards. Chances are some of his book covers grace the shelves of your library.
The Emperor of Paris is on the long list for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Music in Hour Three
Minor Swing by Django Reinhart, performed by Blues Gitan
Waterbug by Jesse Zubot and Steve Dawson
Part 4, Entrance and Dance of the Tailor, from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Richard Strauss. Played by Charles Dutoit and the Sinfonietta de Montréal.
Prelude from the English Suite No. 1 by J.S. Bach, performed by Glenn Gould.