Category Archives: Uncategorized

Economist Blogs: Beyond Commercial Journalism

Google Reader Screenshot

Who needs CNN? (Click image for larger view)

I broke my own rule by sending the following to students in an email, rather than posting to the web:

[Student] and I had a talk about economics journalism, and how CNN and even Reuters and McClatchy are second-rate (for CNN, third-rate) compared to professional economists who blog their views regularly. Since you guys seem interested in figuring this stuff out, but don’t seem to have figured out that the hardest-hitting and most in-depth (and readable) analysis is in the top-tier economists’ blogs, I offer the following starter-pack. It’s multipartisan, from right to left (especially Economists Club).

You’re smart enough to figure out Google Reader and RSS feed subscriptions with a simple Google search (use those terms), so I’ll just share a few economics blogs that go way deeper than the mainstream media.

Subscribe to them, read them regularly, and you’ll feel your brain swell beyond the pop journalism dimensions:

Here’s a Google Reader Bundle of the Econ blogs I read. Click the image¬† to go to the RSS feed for all of them (and feel free to drop recommendations in comments) Update: As a perceptive reader points out, Matt Taibbi is not an economist — though he’s a valuable (and hilarious) investigative journalist specializing in the Wall St./Politics nexus — so I removed him from the bundle:

Economics Blogs Bundle

Click the image for the Bundle page, subscribe there.

Farewells, Four Loves, Confucius, etc.

Confucius and students

[S]peaking about his own spiritual development, Confucius said: “At fifteen I set my heart on learning. At thirty I could stand. At forty I had no doubts. At fifty I knew the Decree of Heaven. At sixty I was already obedient [to this Decree]. At seventy I could follow the desires of my mind without overstepping the boundaries [of what is right].” (Analects, II,4.)

The “learning” which Confucius here refers to is not what we now would call learning. In the Analects, Confucius said: “Set your heart on the Tao.” (VII, 6.) And again: “To hear the Tao in the morning and then die at night, that would be all right.” (N9,.) Here Tao means the Way or Truth. It was this Tao which Confucius at fifteen set his heart upon learning. What we now call learning means the increase of our knowledge, but the Tao is that whereby we can elevate our mind.

Fung Yu-Lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, p. 46. Free Press. New York. 1948. (emphasis added)

The online life has obviously fallen by the wayside for me this year, because I have myself fallen into a couple or three or four loves: love of the history of Chinese civilization (a love growing deeper by the day), love of a sharper view of the nightmarish history of the West (thank goodness for the occasional lotuses — the Mahlers, Voltaires, Nietzsches, Wildes, Keatses, Shakespeares — blooming from those millennia of muck), love of a handful of students in my Chinese history classes, and love of almost all 60 students in my Western Civilization classes.

I climbed out of the book quoted above to share that quote because it brought to mind a few of those students — the ones who did middling-to-worse on the multiple choice sections of their final exams, hadn’t memorized enough to find the right answers, and whose essays didn’t suggest a shining future in academia.

But I don’t wish an academic future on these youths anyway, and more importantly, to riff off our Confucian above, the “learning” these tests measure is not what I consider the most important learning.

Judging from so many signs — the sparks in their eyes and questions on their tongues during class discussions, the staying through break after class to discuss more towards the end of the year, the goodbyes we exchanged two days ago in the last 20 minutes of our year together — it seems clear to me that so many of these “average” students left with the “elevated minds” Confucius would smile to see.

I hope I’m right, and that the leaden forces within and beyond school don’t drag those minds back down in years to come.

I have never felt so strongly as now that a year with students is what is needed for the learning to really start. They’ve had their whirlwind tour of our species’ history, skated across the surface of its 5,000 year flow, gained familiarity with the major signposts along the way, and finished the tour in their own decade. And now the skating, having only scratched the surface once, is done, and we’re saying goodbye.

What I wouldn’t give for a second year with these kids, so we could switch from surface skating to deep-sea diving. But I guess that’s what college is for.

In any case, my first year at this new school was predictably rocky, but thanks to those four loves, all the bruises were more than worth it. I’m totally exhausted, in the very best of ways.

Confucius and Students (Ming Dynasty) from Wikimedia Commons

Photoshop Help Wanted: Banner Needed for New Website

If you happen to be so good at Photoshop or Illustrator that you can knock out a decent website banner in 20 minutes or so — unlike me, for whom a miserably failed attempt takes hours — I’d appreciate your help. I’m ready to launch a new website that I think is important, and want it to look more than Bush League.

I can’t pay you for it — I’m already paying for the website hosting and putting free hours into the concept and content, all for the sake of education, not profit — but I can give you credit and free advertising on this site and the new one.

If you’re interested in helping, fill out the contact form below — and thanks.

[Update: Form closed. Thanks to all who responded!]

New Tech Teaching Habits

I think this question would make either a good meme or a good open thread:

What new routines have worked their way into your teaching-and-learning life as a result of the digital revolution?

I’ll share a couple of mine. I think history teachers will find the first one valuable, but teachers of any discipline can find and do similar things in their subjects.

1. Annotating Open Courseware University Lectures on Academic Earth, YouTube, Yale:

I’ve been watching UCLA Professor Lynn Hunt‘s European Civilization from 1750 to the Present course lectures on Academic Earth to review modern European history before teaching it in the semester beginning next month. I’m also watching Yale Professor John Merriman‘s course on the same subject.

Here’s the rub: Yale’s courses are better watched at Yale’s Open Yale site, where you can find transcripts, video downloads for iPods, and all sorts of supplemental goodies for each lecture. But I haven’t been able to find the UCLA course on any UCLA-hosted site, so all we have for Prof. Hunt’s course is Academic Earth’s video. That means no transcripts or text of any sort. [Update: UCLA has a YouTube channel that allows downloads of the lectures — something Academic Earth doesn’t do. I’m putting my floating stickies on the YouTube lectures too. Here’s the Modern Western Civ course playlist.]

Dr. Hunt’s a fine lecturer. She opens each class with a musical or artistic piece from the period covered, for example, and discusses its significance in the wider historical context. Her lectures are also well-organized, tight, and interesting. So my new routine, as the screenshot below shows, is a simple one: While I watch a lecture, I have a Diigo floating sticky-note open on the page, and simply outline the lecture with time-stamps. You can see it live here, if you have Diigo [Update: And here on YouTube]. Obvious uses:

  • I — or anybody else — can use the time-stamp to show exactly the segments wanted in class.
  • I can also adapt and/or condense the entire lecture for my own presentations in my classes. Simply extract the time-stamp and notes on my Diigo page, print them out if needed, and voila — an outline for a lecture, presentation, or discussion.

Again, this is simple and no big deal. It’s just taking notes while watching a video. But the cool thing is, other teachers worldwide (if they use Diigo) can share mine and add their own. (Among other possibilities.)

Here’s the screenshot:

Dr Hunt's UCLA lecture

Dr Hunt's UCLA lecture, my Diigo floating sticky-note (click for larger image)

2. Planning Classes While Walking to School with iPod/iPhone Voice Memo

ipod voice memo image

Talking to Yourself is Good

I love Voice Memo. My daily routine in Singapore is an hour metro ride to school, then a 10-minute walk from the metro station to my classroom. I use it as planning time, and my best tool is my iPod Touch’s Voice Memo app. My iPod earbuds have a mic in the wire, so all I have to do is spend five minutes or so thinking about how I want to structure the day’s classes, and talk it into my iPod. When I get to school, I listen to the voice memo to write my lesson plan on the board.

I know some people can plan classes weeks in advance, but I’m not one of them. Too many ideas worth incorporating come in the days,¬† even the hours, before the class. So this has been a godsend for me. I don’t forget my best ideas, and don’t have to write them down. I literally talk to myself as I walk to class about the best ideas I have for the day.

Again, no big deal. A drunk could do this in his worst hangover. And that’s the beauty: low-labor, high-leverage changes in routine, thanks to new tools.

What about you? Any to share?

And Happy New Year, by the way. May the five-fingered fist of fate always smash the mean person next to you, and pet you like a kitten until 2011.