I am without shoes

"When writing a novel* that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.'"

Today, I started my class by quoting, not Neil Gaiman but Douglas Adams at my students. It was to impress upon them the importance of deadlines (which a few seem to consider something which is quite useless in the general scheme of things. While this is a point of view I completely agree with, it's difficult to voice said agreement at your students when you are required to grade their work and hand in the grades to the mysterious powers-that-be). I also used it as an illustration of why research is fun (and useful). Not sure either of them went down too well (maybe a MP-ian killer rabbit example would have worked better? I don't know).

Before doing that though, I asked if they had read DA and was deeply disappointed to see that only one (out of 29 kids) had. It's turning into a miserable world with a hopeless future if the youth, the "leaders of tomorrow" (or whatever the current term for them is) do not read DA. DA should be required reading for all teenagers at some point in their lives, if only to make them realise the importance of research in general and the usefulness of having a slightly offbeat look at life.

I'm not that pleased with today's class. I had the usual problem of half of them already being aware of (and having had an entire semester on) statistics and the other half not having any clue about basic statistical concepts like distribution, frequencies and regression. Of course, that led to my (usual by now) obsession about whether I should turn the class into: "here's what some of the major statistical concepts are" (thus sending to sleep the half that have taken stats already) OR "here's how statistics is often (wrongly) used in social sciences research and you have to look into assumptions about where the mass of numbers came from". I came down on the side of the latter and we spent time going through various statements about averages (which could mean mode, median or mean); percentage and percentage changes (difference thereof); and had fun with "how to measure Freedom". Or, at least I had fun: I don't think they did.

We then went through the methods behind behind how poverty is measured by the United Nations (how was the index operationalised; where did the data come from; what some of the main weaknesses of data-collection could be, and so on). All boringly practical and, if only one stops and thinks about it, hideously self-evident. I ended by giving a sermon on how IR (and most of the social sciences) is organised so that quantitative research and, especially, statistics are seen as naturally superior to any other sort of analysis. I added that, as they had seen by now based on the examples we ran through, data collection issues and problems of measurement weren't issues that only non-quantitative people faced. Again, I am not sure that all this isn't boringly self-evident and I'm not being completely patronising in assuming these kids don't already know all this.

PTSD readers will have to await E's AngryYoungPerson post (hopefully) on how the latest iteration of the Culture and WhatWeDo Workshop at TheUniversityWhichisNotOurs (TUWINO) went. E's flying the PTSD pennant there today since I'm stuck doing flunkie duties.

* Substitute "dissertation" for "novel" and Mr. Gaiman (as usual) has expressed my views perfectly. This writing thing isn't really difficult, once one has time and energy to devote to it.


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