Stupid things

Professor turns test into a game, blogger remains unimpressed

Here’s an interesting article a friend shared on Facebook. The article has gotten a lot of likes and tweets, and commentators on the article congratulate the author, a professor of Behavioral Ecology at UCLA, for his wonderful brilliant idea.

His idea? He let his students “cheat” on an exam by letting them work with each other and with any other resource they wanted. The “meta” idea is that they’d learn something about behavior by how they take the test.

What would they learn?

I don’t know. The article is rather vague on the specifics, save for an idea any idiot should know, “If we all work together, we can do more.” That doesn’t mean working together is automatically a good thing, obviously; it depends on what people are trying to achieve. If two or more people are trying to achieve the same thing and lose nothing by another person achieving it, then, of course, work together. I think the human species would’ve died out long ago if humans didn’t innately understand this, so I fail to see anything very amazing or brilliant by exemplifying this in allowing such cooperative behavior to emerge in a set of unconventional exam rules.

The professor writes:

In the end, the students learned what social insects like ants and termites have known for hundreds of millions of years. To win at some games, cooperation is better than competition. Unity that arises through a diversity of opinion is stronger than any solitary competitor.

But did the students themselves realize this?

Is that supposed to be profound?

What really bugs me more than anything, however, is when the professor writes:

Is the take-home message, then, that cheating is good? Well…no. Although by conventional test-taking rules, the students were cheating, they actually weren’t in this case. Instead, they were changing their goal in the Education Game from “Get a higher grade than my classmates” to “Get to the best answer.” This also required them to make new rules for test taking.

What student’s goal is merely to “get a higher grade than my classmate”? Is the value of a D worth more if everyone else got an F? I think the goal for most students is to “get the best grade I can based on how much I value it.” Because, in the end, for the purposes of the student, the true worth of a grade is decided by himself, not a professor or an institution’s arbitrary rating system.

You see, you silly professor, your test was never a “game.” At least, not in the sense you thought it was. You do not get to decide what the students are playing for, so you never had control of the rules in the first place. The students have always been in control of the rules, because they’re in control of their own goals. The rules any educator establishes for his students are part of the educator’s goals, what the educators are playing for, what the educators want to do with their student’s grades and what they want those grades to reflect.

So I fail to see how the professor accomplished anything worthwhile.

If you want to accomplish something worthwhile, follow my education philosophies!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

Saving is objectifying?

I couldn’t watch this whole video because the host’s arguments are just too completely insane. It’s probably too insane to even be worth commenting on, but I’m going to anyway. (I like how ratings and comments are conveniently not allowed on the video.)

The argument is that the “damsel in distress” trope in video games objectifies women by portraying them as objects to be won. If this were truly the case, any game involving a damsel in distress could replace the damsel with a bag of virtual money as the ultimate prize, and the story should still work. It doesn’t, because the bag of money can’t love the main character in return. The prize is not the woman’s body, it’s the woman’s love, the return of the mutual love between the two characters. These stories are founded on relationships.

Claiming that wanting to save a woman is objectifying her is like claiming that giving a gift to someone is a form a objectification, because someone is being acted upon. “Honey, I got you a new necklace!” “How dare you act upon me!” We might as well never do anything for anyone else, less we objectify them.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

An annoying argument tactic

There’s an issue going on in the writing / publishing world involving Random House’s e-book imprint Hydra, as mentioned in this recent post from the Writer Beware Blog.

I have no comment on the issue itself, but on something mentioned in Random House’s open response letter.  They write:

While we respect your position, you’ll not be surprised to learn that we strongly disagree with it, and wish you had contacted us before you published your posts.

I’ve seen this sort of defense before in the blogosphere.  “You should’ve talked to me before you said something negative about me!”  No.  Obviously you have every right to defend your opinions, but it is no breach of etiquette for someone else to publish his dissenting opinions without running them by you first.  Your original deeds and writings are what he is publishing an opinion about.  If his opinions seem to be based on a misunderstanding, you can correct him, but it is not his job to run his opinions by you first.

I doubt whoever wrote this letter meant much by this sentence, but this way of thinking bothers me.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

Precise probabilities do not imply intelligence

It annoys me when characters on TV shows, especially sci-fi shows, are portrayed as being super-intelligent by being able to ramble off precise probabilities, as if probabilities of natural occurrences are some precise science. “The chances of succeeding are only 34.56 percent!” No, they are either 0 percent or 100 percent. The mathematics of probabilities are a compromise; probabilities provide a way for us to make decisions based on insufficient knowledge. They are not real-world measurements just because we use the word “percent” when talking about them.

“I am 53.45 percent done reading this book.” That’s a real-world measurement.

“There is one bullet left in this gun, so the chance of me shooting you is 16.6… percent.” That’s a measurement of imagined futures based on not knowing which chamber a bullet is in. The bullet is only in one chamber. There is only one possible future.

Truly intelligent characters do not compute precise probabilities in their heads. It is a completely impractical way to go about thinking or making decisions.

This annoys me as much as the idea that emotions and intelligence are somehow naturally at odds, and the price for higher intelligence is the ability to feel emotions.

By S P Hannifin, ago

Thoughts on Disney and Star Wars

I am a bit late to today’s news of geeks and I don’t really have anything interesting or intelligent to say. But I do have some boring mundane things to say.

1. I’m cautiously optimistic about more Star Wars movies. I don’t know why George Lucas didn’t make more movies sooner with how much money the prequel trilogy made. In middle school, I enjoyed reading some of the Star Wars novels (only have five still sitting on my bookshelf), so I imagined there were plenty of possibilities. It will be interesting to see Star Wars in the hands of different writers and directors, because, with the prequel trilogy, George Lucas proved to be rather lacking in certain areas.

2. It will be weird to see a Star Wars movie not scored by John Williams.

3. It would be awful to see a Star Wars poster with that childish curly Disney logo degrading the coolness of the rest of it. (I have no idea how they’re going to brand it.)

4. After buying Marvel not too long ago, it’s weird to see Disney gobble up another proven money-making franchise. It’s so fat.

5. With the deal, Disney owns LucasArts, which means they own Monkey Island. Ick. But seeing as how Monkey Island was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, perhaps it’s strangely appropriate. Still, I don’t like the thought.

6. The Star Wars Holiday Special would fit right in with the rest of the Disney Channel’s programming! It even already has singers! Maybe just add a laugh track.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

The Hobbit music

Oh boy, I can’t wait for the movie The Hobbit! I especially look forward to Howard Shore’s new musical score. I was surprised and happy to see this little behind-the-scenes video about the music. Oh boy!

By S P Hannifin, ago