Cracks in the Ivory Tower

28th December 2021

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Cracks in the Ivory Tower: The Moral Mess of Higher Education, by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness. 

This fascinating book is framed around an important premise – it’s not that people in a given problematic institution, say, academia, are necessarily bad people.  It is instead that people can have differing incentives and rewards.  As authors Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness observe: “What sets this book apart from many other critiques of higher ed is that we believe academia’s problems are ingrained. Bad behaviors result from regular people reacting to bad incentives baked into academia. No specters haunt academia. Normal people just take the bait.” We might point out that another difference between this book and other critiques of higher education is that it’s pretty funny.  

We quibble with Brennan and Magness about a few things.  For example, student evaluations may be problematic, but in our opinion, they’re certainly not worthless.  If such reviews can’t tell how good an instructor actually is, they can certainly give a good sense of how bad they are.  Malign instructors under the protection of tenure can kill student motivation. Just a few of these creatures on, say, an engineering faculty, can result in students—even good students—deciding that by golly, it doesn’t matter if the humanities or psychology might come with a latte-type job; anything looks better than engineering. In any case, we found Brennan and Magness’ focus on incentives to be deeply insightful—this perspective has come to flavor our own analysis of many social interactions.

Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era, by Laurence Leamer.  Truman Capote was one of the most fascinating characters of the twentieth century.  So this book proved irresistible for us.  

Capote was a raconteur of the first order, and he parlayed his story-telling skills not only into a career as a novelist, but also into calling cards that made him a popular houseguest amongst the wealthy.  Over time, Capote began to realize that his awareness of the world of enormously wealthy, fashionable women could be used as fodder for his writing. Just as he took advantage of the confidences of murderers in his classic, In Cold Blood, Capote ruthlessly set about milking his wealthy female friends for their thoughts—thoughts he could put on the page to sell books, even as these publicly shared confidences would destroy his deepest friendships.  A real page-turner that is a biography not just of Capote, but of some of the world’s wealthiest, intelligent, best-dressed, but often trapped women.

Class Central’s Most Popular Courses of 2021

Don’t miss Class Central’s list of Most Popular Courses of 2021. And Class Central reflects on their first decade of service to MOOC-takers! 

Barb’s favorite flashcard program, iDoRecall, has dramatic new updates!

iDoRecall has released its browser extension that allows users to sync their Kindle highlights with their iDR account, import the highlights, and selectively convert them into linked recalls. When they practice those recalls, if they struggle with the answer, they can click the source link. If they have the free Kindle Desktop app on their PC or Mac, it will open the correct book at the location of the highlight to refresh their memory in the context where they first learned that information. Here is a demo video

iDR users can now import highlights and create linked recalls on any public-facing webpage using the iDR Webclipper. When they practice these recalls, they can click the source link, and the relevant webpage will open and scroll to the location of the highlighted text or screenshot of the regions of interest. Here is a demo video.

iDR users can create redaction recalls that enable flashcards where they redact portions of text or areas on an image such as anatomic labels or cells in a table and challenge themselves to remember what is hidden under the redactions. Here is a demo video.

As long-time Learning How to Learners recall, iDoRecall is a unique spaced-repetition flashcard web app that enables you to link the facts, concepts, formulae, terms, and definitions in your learning materials that you want to remember with your flashcards. These source links close an essential loop in the learning process. When you practice your flashcards, if you struggle with the answer, you can click the source link and the Word file, PowerPoint, PDF, image file, Web page, Kindle eBook highlight, or YouTube video will open at the exact relevant location where you discovered that ditty so that you can refresh your memory in the original context where you first learned it. With iDoRecall, you don’t just learn. You employ cognitive science-backed principles to remember what you’ve learned.

Readers of Cheery Friday can get a 25% off the Learner Annual Subscription by using the FriendOfBarb discount code at checkout. (No, we are not an iDoRecall affiliate—we just like the program!)

Dr. Roi Yozevitchpodcast with Barb

Dr. Roi Yozevitch is one of Israel’s most popular podcasters about learning and AI. Listen in here as Roi and Barb converse their way through a broad spectrum of ideas about learning and education.

Oregon eliminates all proficiency requirements to read, write, or do mathematics in order to graduate from high school

This insightful post by Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, demonstrates that no matter how problematic you might think education might be, there is always room at the bottom. Unfortunately, Oregon’s move means further inequity for Oregon’s students, as the more well-to-do parents remove their students from public school systems and put them into private schools.  Viewed from Brennan and Magness’ perspective in Cracks in the Ivory Tower, there are plenty of elated actors in this drama who are rewarded by removing requirements to show that students have actually learned anything.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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