Sunday, 28 June 2015

Power at a Point?

This blog isn't going to be like the others.

You may have noticed that I can spend a lot of time talking about relatively small/contained things. For instance, the numerous course reviews that I have done. In fact, I can even talk at length about those (indeed, I am intending on writing a post on the idea of student course reviews found at places like studentcoursereview). You may have also noticed that quite a lot of what I do is based on responses to articles. You may have concluded from this that I have less to say than I actually say, a conclusion to which I can only say, "You may very well think that, I couldn't possibly comment". This blog will cover these sorts of things, but it's going to be... different.

Summary (of sorts)

two ideas

1) right and wrong ways of using powerpoints

2) student power -- just because there is a right way that doesn't mean the right way is what appeals to students
   If you look at Auckland you get extremely slide heavy courses and you get ones which seem to be enough, there are some levels of confusion around what is what, compare/contrast history vs marketing vs economics vs infosys. (clocktower)

Have finished with credits. Find whatever thing was talking about the nature of the slides because that article just discusses the student/PowerPoint relationship. Draw cartoon of student dependency on PowerPoint.

Conclusion Side:

The viewer wants but does not need explicit statements. Use picture of Batman... irony again. Problem is that I really want to explain it.

Broader point: decent slides aren't decent revision material because there's next to nothing on them. I hope that this is a good approximation of a decent PowerPoint what with visuals, the odd quote and point just acting as a springboard for things to attach to. As you can see, though, there's very rough outline, Possibly the point is made. Maybe it's not. In any case, I feel as if I have to stop with slides and now provide the notes that would go with them.

Okay, that's a little bit of a lie. But, broadly speaking, were this blog one of my history essays it would look something like that at first. What one does is read the thing, break it down and then think about what one wants to say on it. For a real world example, here's part of my essay writing process for History 219, the text in question is Jean de Joinville's Life of St Louis. The essay itself was a cool 1500 words +/- 10%, just in case that's relevant.
Conceptual Approach: identify the mentality around some sub-aspect and then discuss how that is approached.
Basically, I’ll be discussing examples. These mentalities are mostly revealed through the specific choices of incidents that Joinville chose to bring. In some cases, Joinville would have been aware that he was showing something: a mentality around what the ideal was. In others, Joinville would have really considered that he was conveying a medieval understanding of kingship because it would have been too central. You then also get the more specific parts of things.
The Military and Political King
                Conflict with nobles, esp. wedding
                Commitment of self to battle/combat
Just King
                Way justice is administered, personal level
                Mercy, not always free of reward for self (some tension here with Gaposhkin reading)
                Extensive reform in this respect
                Gaposhkin, faith as the source of this
                Poor/Those in Need?
                                Extensive commitment to aid
                                Way he tries to present Louis’ actions to his family
                                Joinville’s commentary on the king’s obligations to his nobles
                                Joinville’s refusal to swear oath (I’m not a vassal), that the oath is sworn
                                Clothes and sitting arrangements

Original Introduction Draft
In Jean de Joinville’s Life of St Louis, the friend and biographer of Louis IX presented Louis’ family with a portrait of an ideal king. Joinville’s Louis was a deeply pious and immensely wise thinker whilst simultaneously being a brave and just man of action. Louis IX was also an example of kingship that his grandson, Philip IV, was failing to match. The Life of St Louis is an uncritical text written decades after the events it describes by a man who was both close to Louis as a friend and to his power, in his role as Seneschal of Champagne. However, it is also text that does manage to capture a medieval understanding of what being a king really meant. That Joinville splits his text into the words and actions of his subject is deeply significant and helps show the dual nature of the king. For Joinville, the ideal king embodied by Louis is not a simple figure who exercises power effectively and runs a country well. Instead, the king has an understanding of how he should be and how he should perform his roles. He is both able to understand why he should balance almsgiving and support of his nobles and capable of doing that. While, perhaps, this shows Joinville’s own aristocratic concerns it is certainly a mentality of kingship.
So, what do I mean by lie? Well, I made a couple of alterations at the start to make it rougher than it really was but also to make it slightly more readable (which is also true of the above). Other than that, it captures my explorations of the idea at early and later stages quite well. In fact, it actually includes some ideas that I didn't follow through on. Which I think also ended up being true of the above planning (introduction draft excluded).

There's a further problem in that I haven't really recorded all my different sources of information. Consequently, this blogpost is, ethically, extremely sketchy. Basically none of the images are of my own creation but all are unattributed. The opening quote isn't attached to its author (although, hopefully, it only appears confusingly placed, not of confusing origin: if its author's identity is a mystery to you I don't want you to read this blog again until it isn't). Some images are also modified and/or combined with other images which gets a bit more dubious again. The last Batman one does have an attached credit and I must say, isn't it cool? To an extent, this is also far more meta than any reader could possibly have the capacity to understand because the thing that makes it meta? Yep, that's right: not cited anywhere.* This is not, as we see with the Joinville stuff, my standard way of doing things (e.g. Gaposhkin).** Making matters worse, some things are out of context entirely (e.g. the emulsion thing, that's an example of how not to do things) and some things have had their context forgotten by me (i.e. the Batman quote, which possibly means the point I hope it makes is not the point it is making).

But, the way this has been laid out is quite deliberate. There is a perception that people want something handed to them on a platter. Instead of progression to the point, people want the point. This is, generally, true. When I consume mystery fiction (which includes the likes of CSI as well as proper stuff like the Speckled Band) I generally do not try and figure out the answer. To an extent, this is because I am not particularly good at it. However, what I do think I am good at, is understanding implicit points, In fact, it is a source of deep frustration for me that implicit points, as opposed that have been explicitly pointed out in neon lights that scream "the point! the point!," are often not understood. And here we have something that is almost entirely implicit. The "draft" does wrap up these ends, though, because I want the damn pay-off: for people to see what I mean and hopefully think it clever (ah, blogs). Here I am the audience and all readers are my actors pottering across the stage.

So, what has actually happened here?

Well, in an ideal world a slide show acts as something to ground the speech or provide interest. In this sense, when you look at the slides, you get, at best, an idea of what it's all about. Let's consider this "slide show".

Firstly, we have a title slide which introduces, very vaguely, what the subject of the thing is. The next three slides are intended to function as platforms to talk about the article itself. Notice how they parallel with the summary in the "draft"? These slides form the core of the initial discussion as they set up some room for me to comment on the views but mostly it is description rather than analysis. That background in the second of the "Ralph slides" is from my Accounting 101 coursebook. That's my handwriting and those are my drawings. I would, potentially, note them here but, ultimately, they are more relevant later on.

The next slide continues from Ralph's conclusions. We have an article from Minding the Campus on on one of his exact points (as best I remember) and a slide from someone else's show which discusses student behaviour and perception in practice. In other words, you see, right there in that slide, that something that worked wasn't preferred (remember Ralph's arguments?). Next up we get a bunch of quotes from students at the same university as Ralph and myself (including one where he presumably knows the lecturer mentioned). These indicate that the picture is actually more complex (ironic given some of the article's remarks) because here we have students criticising lecturers for "reading off the slides". I would talk about this for a bit in terms of what that means for the argument and how the apparent dissonance is resolvable. Then we move into something that really goes further than merely just beyond Ralph because that slide is about the mechanics of the slide show in general. What makes a good slide, what does a good slide show look like? There's potentially a problem here (and with the previous slide) because I have tried to make these slides something that would work as part of a proper presentation but there may be too much going on. The slide after that draws the previous two slides together. These are actual experiences: various different actual university slides (now I have legal and ethical concerns, any copyright complaints will result in removed materials, rest assured) and another version of a coursebook which is nothing but slides (mostly). Issues of representativeness do arise here, of course. Such things need discussing.

Finally, we hit the conclusions. To be honest, I am not sure what I would say at this point. I often prefer to be implicit as the explicit statement is harder to make in some cases (can't quite find the words?), The Batman that follows it, though, is, as the draft points out, where we can sort of wrap things up.


"The viewer wants but does not need explicit statements." When we are looking at university slides there is, often, a bit of an identity crisis going on. For instance, does one write the slide down first or what the lecturer is saying? It gets a bit messy rather quickly and as history courses are breakneck "He who hesitates is lost" is far too apt in a literal sense. But the bigger thing is, how do the slides actually relate to the rest of the course? Do lectures complement the textbook? The textbook the lectures? Do lectures have everything that one needs to know? Does the textbook? It is no surprise that "Do I need to read the textbook?" is a common question. The easiest way of doing things is if there is just one thing so, generally, the textbook disappears in resolutions.

However, this means that Ralph, in some sense, really needs to consider the entire course more or, at least, from a different perspective. History, in my experience, doesn't have these problems. The readings are understood as an integral part of what goes on, with lectures containing what needs to be known and everything else you can do builds upon the lectures. Thus, some courses need to be much clearer about whether the lectures develop the textbook or if it's vice versa. The University of Auckland, in my eyes, can be extremely haphazard about how learning resources fit together. Business 101 and 102 avoided this problem because they were explicitly flipped whereas I think, perhaps, Infosys 110 wanted to be flipped but was ambiguously so (all I know for sure is that the textbook definitely helps, so read it damn it).

But, getting to Batman specifically, what you have to understand is that user pays means that there is a definite cost associated with failure and the primary aim, in some sense, is just making sure you don't fail. What the modern student is after is a degree, not an education. The mind-boggling separation of these ideas, to my mind, has led to a world where passing the exam/course is the particular thing to do.† In such a conception, the thing that is wanted is a single source which can be studied from and used to pass the exam. To such an end, what the student wants is very comprehensive slides. Hence, "The slides the student deserves but not the one the student needs right now" is the better slide. The solution, is pretty obvious, train lecturers in how to create good (or, at least, better slides) and hope the students are not so stupid as to think what is on very bare bones slides is the point. If the course looks like it should be one way, students will think it should be that way. If the course seems ambiguous then they well conclude: "Teachers who eschew bullet points for graphical slides are criticised for not providing proper notes."

Oh, and consistency between lecturers is crucial. One of the big issues with Marketing 201 is that the first lecturer we had (Karen) did things in a way where there was a clear relationship between different materials. Margot was a bit less clear but it wasn't a biggie. Sandy... oh, Jesus Christ. We went from one mentality and did a complete 180, it was a mess. It didn't help that the slides were of the fill in the blank kind which meant what is on them matters and what is being talked about does too, but if you are not typing it is very difficult to keep up. This is easily avoided by having less on slides (which is probably good for typists as well because they have to pay more complete attention).

Note, in general, what I think people want, and what I certainly want, is for lectures to be sufficient to pass with everything else building on that, or for lectures to make sense of some other resource. For instance, Stats 20x. Most of the information, if not all of it, is right there in the handout but, for me, going to the lectures and paying attention was what made it make sense.

*Because this, if I stuck with this this long, would drive me insane (and I am not, by nature, cruel), somewhere I read a criticism that sources of information are just lifted without attribution. What has happened to create this slideshow? Exactly.

**There's a law called conservation of detail (well, to TV tropers there is) and here it's mucked around with a bit. My work on Joinville is tangentially connected to some remarks on a website I came across whilst looking for some more images for the fourth slide called Unemployed Professors. That site is an ethical nightmare (and also really really concerning for people like me) but it did have a few interesting looking blogs to the 1am mind. A number of these related to how one writes papers and whatnot. So, there you have an explanation of sorts but still no picture credits because, hey, the site didn't have anything I was looking for. 

†Again, not wholly original an idea. It's largely based on something I read as part of writing this blog and now I have forgotten where exactly it came from. I'm still university student, I am unlikely to have reached an opinion like this based on observation.

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