teaching without a safety net

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A public speaking coach once told me to dispense with visual aids. They are a crutch. They are distracting. They disrupt the flow of your talk. For a while, I was able to follow his advice. Then, with the era of power points, I stopped. My students resented lectures without power points. I brought power points into class. I got worse as a speaker.

Recently, I have tried to implement the advice and reduce distracting visual aids. What I learned is that students wanted notes and summaries. The power point presentation fulfilled that function. They printed power point slides out and wrote on them. But they didn’t seem to want or need visuals during class. They were still perfectly capable of following lectures.

My current mode of operation is that I provide outlines/notes/power point slides but the class itself is just me talking and directing class discussion without notes. Occasionally, I’ll pick up the paper to make sure I hit major points. Otherwise, it is a wild free-soc improv jam session. And it works. I can monitor class, have off the cuff discussions, and drum up the audience. Since the class has a loose structure, people are more relaxed and we can speed up or slow down as needed.

But there is a deeper lesson, aside from just being more relaxed. By forcing myself to essentially memorize all these readings and then explain, from scratch, how they are connected, I can actually see the connections more clearly. For example, I teach social theory for upper division students from Lemert’s text. The book is one of those anthologies that mixes actual sociology with a bunch of “hip” readings from the humanities that touch on social behavior. So for a lot of the readings on race and gender, I always thought they were disconnected. But by re-explicating, I realized that there are lots of common themes. One is that a lot of the “humanities” style readings are actually about claiming intellectual space for women and minority intellectuals and using that position to generate social change. Though it is not mentioned in the critical essays in the readings, it comes out when you have do in-class close readings. Franz Fanon raises the issue, Patricia Collins nails it, and then Gayatri Spivak mucks it up again. I don’t think I’d be able to see that chain of thought had I just relied on the power points I wrote three years ago. It only comes out when you read, in class, passages and directly compare them.

This is the lesson I have for you. If possible, “go free” but not wild. Loosen up, read closely, have fun. And see the connections.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 11, 2015 at 12:01 am

another useless replication exercise

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

0% of 5,400 child refugees admitted under obama’s insanely modest program

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My view of the Obama administration is that immigration reform is a second tier issue and they have little interest in pushing hard for change. For six years, Obama’s administration did little, or might have even encouraged, the massive increase in deportations, including those without criminal records. Obama proposed some extremely modest reforms which have had almost no effect on making it easier to lawfully move between nations. In some cases, he has been blocked in the courts. In other cases, the administration has been unable to properly implement its own very modest reforms.

For example, one reform was that children escaping from gang violence in Latin America could apply for asylum. Seems reasonable, but not when you learn that 0 children out of 5,400 applicants have actually moved to the United States from crime ridden nations. From The New York Times:

“Really, it’s pathetic that no child has come through this program,” said Lavinia Limón, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit organization. Pointing to administration officials, she added, “I wonder if it were their child living in the murder capital of the world, whether they would have more sense of urgency.”

When you read the details of the policy, you quickly realize that the policy was never intended to actually let anyone in. Like most immigration policy, the rules are designed to prevent migration, not make it legal:

State Department officials said the program was also slowed by the requirement of DNA tests for parents in the United States and their children in Central America before the children could be granted entry. The officials said some parents had taken a long time to have those tests performed, further extending the delays. The process also includes security checks, medical screenings, payments for airline flights, and other paperwork.

It should be no surprise that people in impoverished areas would have problems with paying for medical tests, paternity tests, airline tickets, and endless paperwork. Most native born Americans would be hard pressed to produce this amount of materials.

In my book, Obama will go down as the deporter of children, many to their deaths. May his successor see the world as a place for free people.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 9, 2015 at 12:01 am

nicole mitchell, solo flute, 2014

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 7, 2015 at 7:01 pm

org theory podcast

Talking About Organizations is a podcast run by Dmitrijs Kravcenko, Pedro Monteiro, Miranda Lewis, and Ralph Soule. And it is all orgs, all the time. They have four episodes so far and they touch on good topics:

  • Taylorism
  • Management Fundamentals
  • Motivation.

Recommended for orgheads everywhere.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 6, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, management, podcasts

non-convergent models and the failure to look at the whole picture when fitting models

Very few models in statistics have nice, clean closed form solutions. Usually, coefficients in models must be estimated by taking an initial guess and improving the estimate (e.g., the Newton-Raphson method). If your estimates stabilize, then you say “Mission accomplished, the coefficient is X!” Sometimes, your statistical software will say “I stop because the model does not converge – the estimates bounce around.”

Normally, people throw up their hands and say “too bad, this model is inconclusive” and they move on. This is wrong. Why? The convergence/non-convergence of a model estimate is the result of completely arbitrary choices. Simple example:

I am estimating the effect of a new drug on the number of days that people live after treatment. Assume that I have nice data from a clean experiment. I will estimate the # of days using a negative binomial regression since I have count data which may/may not be over-dispersed. Stata says “sorry, likelihood function is not-concave, model won’t converge.” So I actually ask Stata to show me the likelihood function and it bounces around by about 3% – more than the default settings. Furthermore, my coefficient estimates bounce around a little. The effect of treatment is about two months +/- a week, depending in the settings.

As you can see, the data clearly supports the hypothesis that the treatment works (i.e., extra days alive >0). All “non-convergence” means is that there might be multiple likelihood function maxima and they are all close in terms of practical significance, or that the ML surface is very “wiggly” around the likely maximum point.

Does that mean you can ignore convergence issues in maximum likelihood estimation? No! Another example:

Same example as above – you are trying to measure effectiveness of a drug and I get “non-convergence” from Stata. But in this case, I look at the ML estimates and notice they bounce around a lot. Then, I ask Stata to estimate with different sensitivity settings and discover that the coefficients are often near zero and sometimes that are far from zero.

The evidence here supports the null hypothesis. Same error message, but different substantive conclusions.

The lesson is simple. In applied statistics, we get lazy and rely on simple answers: p-values, r-squared, and error messages. What they all have in common is that they are arbitrary rules. To really understand your model, you need to actually look at the full range of information and not just rely on cut-offs. This makes publication harder (referees can’t just look for asterisks in tables) but it’s better thinking.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 5, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, mere empirics

party in the street: hypocrisy or not?

One of the responses to Party in the Street is that, in some way, we refuse to acknowledge the hypocrisy of activists. For example, Robin Hanson made the following observation on his blog, Overcoming Bias:

If they had framed their story more in terms of hypocrisy, they might have asked which media or interest groups tried to tell antiwar protesters the truth before Obama was elected, what reception they received, and why did other big media chose not to tell.
A few comments. First, the purpose of the book is to study party/movement interactions, not judge the moral consistency of our research subjects. Second, I think it is harder to establish hypocrisy than many people believe. What appears to be inconsistent can be ascribed to different processes:
  1. I believe X is bad and I support people who do X.
  2. I believe X is bad but I think that my favorite person is better at dealing with X than the other guy.

#1 might be called “bad faith hypocrisy.” We know that our moral claims and actions are different. #2 is more subtle. One might call #2 hypocrisy, but that is misleading since hypocrisy seems to entail conscious contradiction of actions and moral claims. Instead, #2 might be called “misplaced trust.”

What evidence do we have that the antiwar movement declined due to misplaced trust than bad faith hypocrisy? To show that there is misplaced trust, all one needs to show is that activists supported their friend because of a plausible case that there were substantial differences that were acceptable in the moral frameworks of the peace activists. We review this evidence in detail (see chapter 2), but I’d suggest that the de-escalation of Iraq (negotiated under Bush, carried out under Obama) is the major piece of evidence that Obama did something that was consistent with their views. Perhaps the most important piece of evidence against my claim is the massive escalation of Afghanistan, but the Democratic position was always that this was good and the beef of many activists was with Iraq, not Afghanistan. i suspect that most activists simply think that a Democrat would do better and leave it at that.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

November 4, 2015 at 12:01 am


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