Category Archives: Learning

University Rankings and Diversity

Speaking of Concordia University, it is officially taking position in favour of international principles for university rankings instead of those set out by a magazine.
Full Press Release

Concordia uses two of the items in the list of Purposes and Goals of Rankings for the Berlin Principles to explain its decision not to participate in the magazine ranking.

3. Recognize the diversity of institutions and take the different missions and goals of institutions into account. Quality measures for research-oriented institutions, for example, are quite different from those that are appropriate for institutions that provide broad access to underserved communities. Institutions that are being ranked and the experts that inform the ranking process should be consulted often.

5. Specify the linguistic, cultural, economic, and historical contexts of the educational systems being ranked. International rankings in particular should be aware of possible biases and be precise about their objective. Not all nations or systems share the same values and beliefs about what constitutes “quality” in tertiary institutions, and ranking systems should not be devised to force such comparisons.

Through these items, an image of institutional diversity seems to emerge. Concordia, instead of focusing on prestige or pseudo-objective measures of student satisfaction, proposes an educational philosophy with an emphasis on diversity and flexibility. Perhaps because of this philosophy, Concordia is an ideal context for me to teach and learn. Not that it necessarily deserves the highest ranking in surveys. But that it represents very precisely the type of place where people care about actual knowledge more than about public recognition. Public recognition can help some academic institutions maintain an aura of educational excellence but actual learning occurs in diverse contexts.

Effort vs. Talent

Fascinating overview by Philip Ross on the notion of expertise from a psychological perspective. An article has been published in Scientific American and the magazine’s podcast has a segment with Ross.

One interesting issue is the very emphasis on expertise. Experts, like race horses, are heavily specialized. Examples in the article are mostly from chess and musical composition in the classical style. The study refers to “effortful study” which sounds a lot like Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow. In both cases, performance and achievement are allegedly easy to assess. But, well, where’s the fun?

Ross talks about golfers who stopped improving because they always play with the same people. But what some people seem to forget is that playing golf without improving can in fact be quite fun, especially if golf is just a part of the complete activity.

In the interview, Ross does allude to the link, common in the U.S., between schooling and work training. Schools are there to prepare a workforce and improving society as a whole is less important.

An important claim in the article and in the interview is that talent, if it does exist, is less influential than some people seem to think. We see similar things in music, especially if we adopt a broader perspective than simply thinking about skills. “Talented” musicians, those who have a specific predisposition for some musical practise, can succeed in many ways but music doesn’t simply progress by accumulation of skills. This notion is quite important in Ross’s article. Today’s experts are now more numerous and more proficient than during previous generations. Part of this must have to do with today’s emphasis on expertise (people are becoming over-specialized just to fit in the workplace). There’s also the well-known “standing on the shoulders of giants” principle, which accounts for the rapidity in training (although today’s Ph.D. candidates are, on average, much older than previous generations of Ph.D. holders!).

A lot of other things to think about this. But, recently, my policy has been to blog in short bursts. Hey, it’s fun!

Medici and Innovation

First encountered the notion of the Medici effect through this interview with Frans Johansson in Ubiquity, a journal frequently mentioned on the Humanist Discussion Group.
A recent article about important changes coming from simple ideas made me post a short blog entry about changes from simple ideas. Interestingly enough, Johansson himself posted a comment to that entry.
This is in fact a frequent stream of thought, for me. In both business and academia, we tend to live through ideas. Specific ideas. Especially those which can generate money or research projects. An important dimension of the “Medici Effect” seems to be that simple ideas can lead to great accomplishments. Another important dimension is that ideas are both generated in and implemented by groups. Some social contexts seem especially conducive to new ideas. This perspective is well-known enough that even Denys Arcand’s Invasions Barbares had something to say about it.
There’s a lot of directions one could take to talk about innovation from that point. Among the possible threads: artistic creativity, personal innovation, sense of discovery, the economies of ideas, ideas come from the people, “intellectual property,” fluid/organic innovation, boundless ideas, innovation through links between ideas, Lavoisier on ideas (nothing is created or lost, everything is transformed, including ideas), and so on and so forth.
My personal feeling is that the very concept of innovation has become something of a “core value” for a number of people, especially in industrialized society. The type of “newer is better” view of “progress” in both society and technology.
In my mind, the best thing to do is simply to bring ideas together, a “shock of ideas” («le choc des idées»). Hence the long list of tags… 😉

"Don't Quit Your Day Job" (Brewing as Hobby)

[Oh, my! I do hope I won't get too hooked to blogging! I'm scared!!! ;->]

Thinking about brewing, as I often do. Responding to a message about a post I sent to the HomeBrew Digest about beer and beliefs.
In relation to my previous post on work and debt. And compartmentalization.

"Don't quit your day job"
I have no intention of doing such a thing. I love my "day job" (insofar as I have one). I see no reason to quit it.

[Yup, blogging in my case encourages the use of first person singular pronouns, a habit I try to kill in many contexts. But if it's supposed to be self-indulgent, let's do it the self-serving way…]

Some homebrewers I've met hate their day job and see brewing as an escape. [It might be something of the same for me (doing a bit of
self-analysis here) as I may use it to procrastinate. Although, brewing needs planning. Procrastination I mostly do with thinking about brewing. Anyhoo…]
Those homebrewers who brew to "get away from it all" are oftentimes the same guys (yeah, mostly guys in homebrewing circles, nowadays) who want to "Go Pro" and open a brewpub. Now, that's not silly and it's kind of easy to expect, but it might be ill-advised.
Going Pro means a huge investment on money. Of course, we all dream of having enough money to invest in brewing. Hey, if I win the lottery, I might go nuts with brewing gear and if I win enough, I might even give the brewpub idea more of a thought. But…
Going Pro also means transforming a cool, relaxing hobby into an obligation to perform. Sure, many small brewpub and microbrewery owners do it their own way and the lottery win should imply that you don't need to turn a profit. But still, professional brewing is bound to be more of a pressure. And many aspects of brewing aren't necessarily so much fun. And these are the ones that become very important in the Pro world. Not to mention the whole business side. Some people enjoy it but
these are few and far between.

A well-known homebrew celebrity (!) who became a brewpub owner is quoted as saying that if he were to start again, he might not go pro. Nowadays, he doesn't brew anymore. And even though his pub is often packed, he still struggles to make ends meet. Not a pleasant feeling.

Then, the ideal solution should be collaboration. One "business-type" to handle the business and one crazy brewer. Well, the crazy brewer won't be so crazy when the business guy talks about minimizing risk.
A big important notion, risk. A hobby is fun because the stakes are low. You scrap a 5-gallon batch, so be it. You lost a bit of time, a bit of money. So be it. That's life. And you learned something. You scrap a batch as a commercial brewer, uh-oh!
So that's one reason even the most adventurous brewers end up making a lot of fairly uncompromising beer. Another reason is that what pleases the brewer might attract a few beer geeks but the beer geek market is incredibly small as compared to the swill drinkers. Lots of talk about that. But brewing capacity (volume) is correlated against risk.