Sorry, Dave, but you get an F.

April 5, 2013

There was a report in the paper today about a joint project by MIT and Harvard that has produced new freeware to grade written answers to exams.  This will, they say, free up professors for other tasks.  Hmm…

Years ago, I entered a contest sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers on the topic of whether or not Ethics and Professionalism could be usefully measured as part of the engineering licensing exam process.  I suggested that an essay be required, not an obvious answer for those in the engineering profession.  I won the contest – I think there was one other entry in the entire USA – and I got a paid trip to Denver to present my essay to an ASCE conference:  pretty fun for a student with no money at the time.  Now that engineering-numeracy model is come back to bite me, or us!

Why yes!  Why shouldn’t a machine be able to grade short essays and written answers?  Everyone with a school-age child knows about ‘rubrics,’ those itemized lists of things to be accomplished and presented in the student’s submission to receive a decent grade on the project.  Perfect for programming. 

I wonder if the machine will grade philosophy exams?  Or creative writing too?  Easily done if we reduce education to teaching for a test, not to mention a test that a machine can grade, but then, we’re halfway there already what with the reign of the SAT and standardized testing in grade school. 

Here we confront the central tension in education:  for most people, in and out of the power elite, it’s simply a production process to enhance economic output, employability, etc. etc.  Okay, nothing wrong with that.  It also helps to solidify the status quo while you’re at it.  But then, there’s always that other  element of education that favors questions, critical thought, play, humor, imagination and wit, and all sorts of  un-measurable things.  And no use pining for the good old days when higher education was restricted to an elite few:  reading accounts of it in memoirs makes clear that there is no need for machines to produce a completely stultifying, mechanical education system!

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At 30,000 feet, again…

July 23, 2012

Last year, I posted about my trip to a work-related conference in San Diego, and my view of the Mississippi River system flooding I saw from the plane:  Well, I’m back.  I flew over the same terrain, and the damage of the flooding was apparent from the air.  You can see how the neat patchwork pattern of the agricultural areas has been smudged with the debris and sediment from last years flood.

Other themes of that post are recurring:  animation for one.  Then I was reading about Muybridge, friend of Leland Stanford, who did the first time-series images of a running horse.  I took a class on programming for Flex – fascinating, eh? – and sat next to a woman who works at Stanford.  Wow!  And at the museum of art, I bought a kit to make a zoetrope.  I just can’t escape myself.  The content for the toy was printed in the Sunday supplements of newspapers in the 1890s.

In my class, as I fiddle with code and talk of servers, map-services, instantiating queries, and so on, I think of the vast industry that has grown up to move large amounts of data, including the cartographic data with which I am concerned, over the Internet to consumers.  Yes, we are ‘consumers’ of map-services.  It’s as good a term as any, but does anyone wonder about how we all got to be consumers…of everything?  I get distracted by the sociology of the IT industry, and lose my place in the flow of the programming…

I took some time off to visit Balboa Park’s museums.  San Diego has something to offer other than sunshine and conventions, but it’s certainly not good coffee!  Next to the San Diego Museum of Art, where I saw a nice exhibit on German Expressionism, I visited the Timkin Museum, for free!  It’s a small collection, but there are a couple of knockout pieces of Sienese art of which I was unaware.  I particularly like the representation of the Trinity in the center of the second piece below, by Niccolo di Tomme. (Click to enlarge the images.)

Then there was this wonderful portrait by an artist I’d never see, clearly influenced by Leonardo, and newly discovered portrait by van Dyck.  The fabric and the hand seem pure Anthony van.

While shopping the museum store, I came upon a book about Yinka Shonibare, MBE, another new one for me.  He was born in London, raised in Nigeria, and now is back in the UK, producing installations, ‘paintings’, and sculpture that are filled with sly and not-so-subtle, but very exuberant, send-ups and skewerings of European culture, colonial and otherwise.  Turns out, his stuff is on exhibit there, so now I have to get back before I return to NJ.