Friday, March 19, 2010

Nineteen Eighty-Four

In thinking about George Orwell's 1984, we discussed the Newspeak language that is a central piece of the ruling party's effort to control the ability of people to think for themselves.

Newspeak radically changes the English language so that any thoughts that the ruling party deems to be inappropriate (or "thoughtcrime") will not have words in Newspeak to express them.

My initial reaction was that the goals of Newspeak would work for a limited number of people, but would not work for an entire population because, ultimately, words are dependent on thoughts, feelings and ideas, and not the other way around.

Thoughts and ideas are the precursors to language.

The people most resistant to the aims of Newspeak would be artists.

To me, this is the work of an artist - to have thoughts and feelings outside the realm of language and culture and then to bring these ideas back to the community and express them in a way that other people can understand.

1984 - The Movie vs. 1984 - The Book

Another thing that we discussed was the translation of Orwell's masterpiece from print to the screen. I found the portrayal of Orwell's dystopia to be somewhat overwhelming on the screen and felt that, in a way, it overshadowed the ideas that had driven the print version.

To me, the real work of Orwell was in creating the world that the story takes place in. The story itself was a function of the creation of this world.

In doing a little online research today for writings about 1984 and the plot and its ending in particular, I came across an interesting piece of writing by Philip Palmer, a British screenwriter and science fiction author.

Palmer argues that 1984 is a work of science fiction despite some people's resistance to this idea.

He backs up his argument with a few key ideas:

First, this is a book based around concepts - speculations and extrapolations about a future world which are challenging and fasinating and would make the book worth reading even if it weren't so well written. Newspeak, IngSoc, the notion of a perpetual and non-existent war, the control of memory, the Two Minute Hate, the factories where fictitious news is created, Room 101 - these are all fantastic, audacious ideas that linger in the mind and the imagination long after the book has been finished....

Another key fictional strategy which we SF readers look for in our books is world building. This of course is a vital element of both the science fiction and the fantasy genres. A great science fiction novel will create a planetary civilisation, or even a galactic civilisation that is visualised and conceived in the finest detail ...

For all these reasons, it seems to me that 1984 is a great novel which is also a great science fiction novel. And even its flaws are typical of the flaws to be found in many otherwise fine SF novels; namely, a tendency to favour exposition about the minute details of the imagined world over dramatic development and character interaction.
Part of my dislike for the movie version of 1984 was the fact that, with the language and exposition stripped away, we are left with the plot, which I feel is a weak link in the original work.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Online Education

In class the other day, I mentioned that I had seen a free online university, but couldn't find the link anymore. I found it again.

It's the University of the People.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Class Work for March 10th

In Mark Pesce's video that we watched on Monday, he talked about the RateMyProfessors web site and the way that it allowed students to share their classroom experiences with other students and helped to create a better educational experience.

He also talked about the growth of online education.

We're going to explore these ideas today and then plan to talk about them in class on Friday.

So, one thing you can do is to choose a college you'd like to attend or you can choose to look at a course here at Clatsop that you haven't taken yet, but would like to.

I'll list some of the 4-year schools in the Pacific Northwest below:

Class schedule for Oregon State University for 2011

Class schedule for University of Oregon for 2011

Class schedule for Portland State University for 2011

Class schedule for Western Oregon University for 2011

Class schedule for Oregon Institute of Technology for 2011

Class schedule for University of Washington for 2011

Class schedule for Washington State University for 2011 (various campuses)

If you don't see a school you're interested in listed, it usually isn't too hard to search out their course listings.

So, find a class you'd like to take and find the name of a professor who teaches that class.

Then, go to and look up the ratings for the professor you chose. Do you still want to take the class? Why or why not?

On-line Education

Mark Pesce also talked about the growth of online education. Specifically, he mentioned

Here is a link to the StraighterLine website.

StraighterLine is not listed at RateMy Professors, but I did find some forum discussions here about the classes offered by StraighterLine.

I also found a few opinion pieces about StrighterLine -

From an English professor at the State University of NewYork - Buffalo

From eCampus News

From techdirt

Here are links for some other web-based educational companies.

Capella University

Some reviews of the educational experience at Capella

Kaplan University - connected with the Kaplan Tutoring company and owned by the Washington Post.

University of Phoenix

Gatlin Education Services

Look at some of the course offerings, pricing and how each different company organizes their system.

Some of these online educational services have been criticized for the level of student loan default that occurs at their schools. An article from (a joint effort between the Phoenix NBC station, the Arizona Republic newspaper and La Voz spanish language newspaper) talks about the University of Phoenix paying recruiters to enroll new students. The idea here is that the recruiters were signing up students who weren't prepared for classes and so the students ended up dropping out and then defaulting on their loans:

Recruiting allegations

For-profit schools have been dogged for years by complaints that they use aggressive recruiting and misleading information to entice students to enroll. Some schools have paid recruiters according to the number of people they sign up. That has led to claims that students are being admitted who are more likely to drop out, never get degrees and default on their loans.

In February, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said it found violations of incentive compensation rules at 32 schools, mostly for-profits, from 1998 to 2009. That included a 2009 case in South Carolina where the school paid bonuses of $52,500 to 17 employees.

Arizona has had its share of allegations of recruiting violations.

In 2004, a federal review of the University of Phoenix depicted a school hungry to enroll new students. The review said the school threatened and intimidated its recruiters in meetings and e-mails, pressuring them to enroll unqualified students. The university strongly disputed the findings. The school's parent company, Apollo Group Inc., later settled the matter for $9.8 million without admitting wrongdoing.

In December, the University of Phoenix settled a whistleblower lawsuit in federal court for $78.5 million over recruiter-pay practices. Two former enrollment counselors sued in 2004, alleging the school defrauded the government of billions of dollars in financial aid and violated federal law by paying recruiters based on enrollment. The company said the pay practices were legal because enrollment was not the sole determinant. The university did not admit any wrongdoing.

Barron's (the financial weekly published by Dow Jones Inc.) also reported on a Department of Education investigation of Kaplan University:

THE WASHINGTON POST COVERS government agencies as closely as any daily newspaper. Yet an investor would have had to scroll through the Washington Post Co.'s (WPO) 10-K filing last week to see news of a Department of Education inquiry into its important education unit.

The Post's education business, anchored by the Kaplan for-profit college and test-prep businesses, contributed 58% of 2009's revenue and all of its $195 million of operating income.

Within that operation, all the growth is from the "higher education" segment, where revenue grew 33% in 2009 and operating income grew almost 60%, to $275 million. Higher education enrollment last year grew 32%, online enrollment 47%.

Outcomes at Kaplan higher-ed, however, don't compare impressively with other for-profit education enterprises. The online Kaplan University segment (about half of the higher-ed unit's revenues) gets 87.5% of its receipts from some $780 million worth of government student aid. That's close to the federal program's 90% limit, and higher than many other for-profits.

Student-loan default rates are one inverse measure of the benefit received by students. Kaplan higher-ed's numbers have been getting worse. In the first two years after graduation, defaults at four of the school's 33 reporting units were above 25%, which is the level at which they are at risk of Department of Education sanctions. At the online Kaplan University, defaults rose from 6% for 2005 grads to 13% for 2007 grads, with preliminary numbers for 2008 worse, around 16%.

Most intriguing in the 10-K is the passing (and first) mention that the Education Department has been conducting a "Program Review" of Kaplan University's main offices in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., since September. The Post business desk seemed not to notice any of this, but Post investors might want to.

I think the point here is not that online education is bad, but that students should be aware of what they're getting into before paying (or borrowing) their money.

Government Spending

Here is a link to the website Maek Pesce was describing in the video. Check out some places where the money is being spent. You can check for the zip code 97103 (or others) and where the money is being spent locally. If the information helpful?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Update on the school laptop surveillance case

The assistant principal accused of spying on a student using a remotely-activated web-cam has responded that she has never used the web-cam to spy on students' behavior at home.

The student involved stated that:

A number of other families in the school district have signed a petition opposing the lawsuit. The comments section at this last link is pretty interesting. The link is from a local Philadelphia newspaper. Some of the comments focus on privacy issues, others accuse the family involved of seeking publicity and money from their lawsuit.

This is certainly an interesting story!