Monthly Archives: January 2007

Confessions of a Naïve Professor

Call me naïve.

I thought academia was about knowledge.

I thought academic research was about the quest for knowledge.

I thought academic publishing was about the dissemination of knowledge.

I thought academics cared about teaching.

I thought students cared about learning.

I thought lifelong-learning was more than a buzzphrase.

I thought ideas had value beyond finance.

I thought ideas could be challenged.

I thought ideas could surmount prestige differentials.

I thought knowledge could benefit all human beings equally.

I thought honesty was the best policy.

I thought respect was a matter of common sense.

I thought open-mindedness was a true ideal.

I thought wisdom could come from different sources.

I thought knowledge was more than information.

I thought communication was more than the transmission of information.

I thought.

Call me “naïve.” Please do.

But what would why should you call me “Professor?”[edited Feb 25, 2k7 13:04, typo] [edited Sep 5, 2k9 11:21, typo]

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Legal Sense

Not only does it titillate my humour-friendly fibers but the encouraging letter allegedly sent by SecondLife.com to the creator of the Get a First Life parody displays what is, to me (IANAL), perfect legal sense.

Frivolous lawsuits and cease-and-desist letters are detrimental to the overall legal system involved in content creation (especially in the U.S. but also in other regions where the lobby groups such as WIPO are prominent). By showing that they apparently don’t intend to threaten a parody site, SecondLife’s lawyers show more than humour and common sense. They show an appreciation for the positive side of legality.

More power to us!


Quebs

A former student (also a French-speaking Quebecker) got me to use the term “Queb” to designate my Québécois brethren.

Learned through Radio-Canada’s Carnet Techno (a tech-oriented podcast) that the French-speaking side of Yahoo! Canada was now: Yahoo! Québec. FHQs («Francophones hors Québec» or “French-Speakers Outside Quebec”) have a right to feel slighted. Yet they’re probably used to it. After all, ever since the switch from nationalism to a self-determination movement (during the so-called “Quiet Revolution” of the 1970s) Quebeckers have left the “French-Canadian” label in favour of «Québécois» and equivalent terms.

On the other hand, on the part of Yahoo!, the move might make sense financially. After all, it’s not only because of laws that busineses in Quebec will adopt Québécois-savvy names: it also sells more.

Vive les Quebs!


Took a While

The latest episode of Télé-Québec’s Les Francs Tireurs had a segment on international humatarian aid. (Especially of the Euro-American CICR and Reporters sans frontières style.) Maybe there are more (I don’t to watch much television) but this one was the first television report which had a thoughtful and insightful discussion of the negative impacts of humanitarian aid.

Of course, several parts of the discussion were probably edited out (hosts on the show are sometimes explicit about the “need” for editing) and it did sound at times like discussions that most anthropology students have had at one point or another (usually pretty early on in their training) but it was quite refreshing, especially when compared to the usual news reports on how bad the situation is supposed to be anywhere else in the world (i.e., any place where people live a different lifestyle).

What’s funny is that the two main participants in the show were quite honest about the biases of Quebec society in terms of humanitarian aid. This is a society (my own upbringing) in which people pride themselves to be “open-minded” (often meaning “more open-minded that you“). Yet people take humanitarian aid as a sacred principle, not to be criticised. Some aid workers in Africa and elsewhere seem to think that their mission (the religious connotations were discussed on the television show) is to help Others become more like them. Pretty charitable when you see your own habits as the only appropriate way to live, but pretty damaging when you transform knowledgeable human beings into the object of pity.


IT and Classrooms

Two sections of the current episode of Télé-Québec’s Méchant Contraste! social issues television show are on information technology in classrooms:

Instead of a debate on whether or not technology literacy is important for young Quebeckers, the show presents articulate comments on the apparent lack of training in computer and information technologies in the Quebec educational system. Perhaps most interesting, the ideas revolve mostly around what should be done to help teachers adapt to new situations. Instead of “throwing money at the problem,” the idea here is to adopt a clear vision of what technology may do to help both students and teachers enhance learning and teaching strategies.

Of course, as a technology enthusiast, I’m specifically biased. But I do notice a disconnect between the “school administration” side of the equation (whether working in a high school or a university) and the learning/teaching community on the other side. IMHO, adopting technologies in the classroom isn’t a matter of dazzling students with technical proficiency. It’s about finding the most appropriate tools for the tasks that we set out to accomplish.

Perhaps a detail but one worth mentioning: schools still seem to give courses on specific software packages, as they did a number of years ago. Such a strategy is, IMHO, ill-advised because (as explained in this show) students are probably more adept than teachers with most of these tools. But, more importantly, what students should get is a way to connect tools with aspects of learning. Yup, the good ol’ “learning how to learn” idea, applied to a domain where the characteristics of the learning tools are less important than the principles of learning. In other words, training high school students to use Microsoft Office Powerpoint 2007 is much less efficient than helping students at any age understand the principles behind information processing and software-mediated presentations. Having fun with the software is a good way to go, with many students, but concepts and methods shouldn’t be tied to a specific piece of software.

Anyhoo…


Coffee’s Effects

A recent interview with Roger A. Clemens about coffee’s health benefits on the Science Talk podcast of the Scientific American magazine. The interview relates to a short column from the Food Technology journal:

IFT – January 2007, Volume 61, No. 1

To a coffee lover like me (I don’t resent the label “coffee geek“), these do sound like good news. In fact, one would think that with coffee’s long history, most of the health effects associated with the beverage have been considered and that the lack of conclusive evidence showing clear negative effects from coffee must somehow mean that coffee doesn’t have much negative effects.

As mentioned in the podcast interview, sweet milk-based coffee drinks are a different story.  Still, one might guess that only a small proportion of the coffee consumed by people observed for studies on coffee’s effects was “black coffee” (without milk and sugar). Furthermore, it doesn’t sound like the studies reviewed provided a clear distinction between different coffee-based drinks.

As conventional wisdom would have it, a straight shot of espresso made with selected arabica beans probably provides more health benefits than the sweet, milk-based, coffee beverages made with generic robusta beans generally consumed in different parts of the world.

Of course, someone will come along to provide evidence for the negative health effects of coffee. Looking forward to these.

All this to say that, even though these studies might go “my way,” I hope there’s more evidence given for the health effects of coffee.


Social Activism Reality TV

Would the Rebut Global shows count?

(In response to a Maine academic asking for a socially conscious “Reality TV” show…): Open Source » Blog Archive » The History of Utopia

Another of my blog entries on Quebec television and social activism…