Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, May 08, 2021

Since many of us were raised as much by television as by our flesh-and-blood parents, this Hollywood Mother’s Day Quiz seems appropriate.

I scored a nine out of 10, missing only the Mr. Mom question. What does that say about my upbringing?? (But Happy Mother’s Day anyway, Mom.)

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/08/2021 04:18:42 PM
Category: Movies, TV
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When renowned auction house Christie’s made their latest $17.8 million off an art sale, they had a winning turn of rock, paper, scissors over rival Sotheby’s to thank for it.

“I sometimes use such methods when I cannot make a decision,” [art ownerTakashi] Hashiyama told The New York Times in an April 29 story. “As both companies were equally good and I just could not choose one, I asked them to please decide between themselves and suggested to use such methods as rock paper scissors.”

Seventeen mil riding on scissors-over-paper draw? Must be the secret behind that world-famous Japanese business acumen.

At least they used officially-sanctioned World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society guidelines. Suddenly, the idea of a world championship in this “sport” doesn’t seem so foolish.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/08/2021 03:28:05 PM
Category: Business, Comedy
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Anne Rice is trading in her goth/horror milieu for Biblical ponderings, as she’s working on “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt”, a book about Jesus’ early years from the first-person Messiah’s perspective.

Just don’t dare criticize what’s likely to be an unedited (practically anti-edited, as is her style), rambling affair, lest she get eye-for-an-eye screechy on you.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/08/2021 03:07:56 PM
Category: Celebrity, Publishing
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It’s pretty hard to instill an appreciation (much less joy) for writing among students when even the teachers display disdain for the exercise.

The complaints never change: Assigning and grading papers is intensely time-consuming, especially when placed in a typically compressed cirriculum schedule. Something’s got to give, so writing assignments of all types — even basics like essay tests — are de-emphasized in favor of quicker-to-process multiple-choice tests. Teachers come to regard any assignments that can’t be zipped through as chores that they rather not bother doing; and this attitude filters down to their students.

If the problem is simply the lack of time and resources to devote to the writing discipline, the advent of University of Missouri-Columbia professor Ed Brent’s SAGrader software, designed to automate the bulk of essay grading, should be a godsend:

Stan Jones, Indiana’s commissioner of higher education, said the technology isn’t as good as a teacher but cuts turnaround time, trims costs and allows overworked teachers to give written assignments without fearing the workload.

“This (allows) them to require more essays, more writing, and have it graded very painlessly,” Jones said.

Software can also remove a degree of subjectivity.

“It’s fairly consistent. Different teachers grade different papers differently,” Keith Kelly, 21, of Cleveland, one of Brent’s sociology students.

Sounds great, right? Here’s a good illustration of why it’s not — a test run on a similar program, eRater (which is actually used to grade some exams like the GMAT):

When the University of California at Davis tried out such technology a couple years back, lecturer Andy Jones decided to try to trick e-Rater.

Prompted to write on workplace injuries, Jones instead input a letter of recommendation, substituting “risk of personal injury” for the student’s name.

“My thinking was, ‘This is ridiculous, I’m sure it will get a zero,’” he said.

He got a five out of six.

A second time around, Jones scattered “chimpanzee” throughout the essay, guessing unusual words would yield him a higher score.

He got a six.

In Brent’s class, sophomore Brady Didion submitted drafts of his papers numerous times to ensure his final version included everything the computer wanted.

“What you’re learning, really, is how to cheat the program,” he said.

Aside from telling me that my editing job isn’t going to be eliminated by a computer just yet, this example shows just how limited such shortcuts still are. For all the claims of artificial-intelligence elements being incorporated, these programs still rely on fairly primitive keyword-combination tagging to do their work. There’s very little consideration for context, probably because there’s no way to program such a complex factor in. I’m betting the use of SAGrader and the like are little better than using a spellchecker in place of actual proofreading.

The real danger, though, is in how these programs are likely to be used. Teachers are notoriously lazy, and they’ll take tools like this, as imperfect as they are, and use them to do the whole job of grading papers. Why spend any time at all on actually reading the work when you can just feed it into the program and have it spit out a grade?

The intent of SAGrader is to take the drudgery out of the details of editing and grading writing assignments. I have no doubt that the average teacher will disregard the intended use of such a tool, and instead let the program’s analysis be the beginning and the end of the entire evaluation, human input be damned.

Because of this, it’s going to help foster the illusion that more writing instruction is leading to better writing. More papers and essays might be assigned, but that’s not going to translate to improved writing skills being instilled. People will scratch their heads over the conflicting statistical numbers, when the answer will be obvious: More work’s being assigned, but it’s not being graded properly, and thus it ends up being meaningless.

I guarantee students will be able to turn in barely-decipherable drivel, with enough strategically-placed keywords in it, and still get passing grades. Kids aren’t dumb — they know that they shouldn’t have to spend any more time and effort than necessary if their teachers aren’t going to lay their eyes on the work. Ultimately, again, the students suffer because they don’t wind up learning how to write — they just learn how to game the system.

This isn’t a new theme; I’ve lamented the sorry shape of writing instruction before, especially when it’s administered as a sort of punishment, among other wrong-headed approaches. And comments included in the article from USA Today indicate this attitude among instructors quite clearly:

Lesli Hanson, an assistant superintendent in Watertown, said students like taking the test by computer and teachers are relieved to end an annual ritual that kept two dozen people holed up for three days to score 1,500 tests.

“It almost got to be torture,” she said.

Which leaves no doubt in my mind that anyone subjected to such “torture” will grab at anything that offers to reduce the pain, regardless of actual effectiveness.

It’d be nice if I had a alternative. I’m not a Luddite — I don’t begrudge technological efforts to make the teaching process easier. But looking for quick fixes that don’t really work aren’t the answer. Aside from the obvious, and costly, solution — hiring more and better-qualified teaching professionals — I don’t know what can be done.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 05/08/2021 12:44:52 PM
Category: Society, Tech
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