Posts Tagged ‘Kieran Healy’

As a college professor, I am interested in depictions of college life. In addition to seeing whether they “ring true” with my own experiences, I like to consider how they might affect the perceptions of the general public regarding academic life. As a movie aimed primarily at children, Monsters University may be the first depiction of college life that many are exposed to. What, then, does Monsters University teach us about college life (other than the fact that imaginary institutions can have better-designed webpages than real ones)? (Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber covers some of this, but focuses more on the institutional aspects of the university.)

Lesson One: College is largely vocational. The students enrolled at Monsters University take courses that are very narrowly focused on particular employment outcomes. While the Scaring program is the most prestigious, there are also programs related to canister design and door making. As depicted in the movie, none of these programs prepare students very well for unforeseen changes in the workplace (such as those that occur in Monsters Inc., as Kieran points out).

Lesson Two: No matter how hard you work, you may not be able to attain your dream. The Scaring program at Monsters University highly competitive even though some students clearly have more innate talent for scaring than others. Applied exams mean that those who are books smart but lack this innate talent are likely to fail the program. It does not seem like there is much room for theoretical work in scaring (Mike Wazowski seems like a prime candidate for a Ph.D. in Scaring).

Lesson Three: You need to go to college to get the job you want, unless you don’t. Despite the applied nature of the courses, the link between education and employment in Monstropolis does not seem very strong. The closest analog in the American higher education system seems to be acting. Some actors undergo years of training at prestigious universities while others are discovered looking cute at the mall. It would have been interesting to see Pixar approach scaring as something more closely aligned to college athletics, with most monsters using college to continue doing something that they enjoy but a few in high profile programs using it to hone their skills for the big leagues and an even smaller number going directly from high school to the pros.

Lesson Four: Coursework is unimportant (especially courses outside of your major). Students at Monsters University are shown attending two courses during the movie. For a large portion of the movie the characters do not mention anything about class at all, focusing instead on an extracurricular competition. Since this competition takes place during the semester, I assume that these students were attending other classes. Of course, in a vocational system like this breadth doesn’t seem to be that important.

Lesson Five: College life revolves around the Greek system. The aforementioned extracurricular competition has the highest profile of all campus activities (it is sort of like the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter). Students must be affiliated with a fraternity or sorority to participate and even the Dean is heavily involved in the organization and outcome.

Lesson Six: Things will be okay even if you cheat. Without giving too much away, some of the students at Monsters University cheat. They are punished for doing so, but not to the extent that they are unable to fulfill their lifelong dreams.

Lesson Seven: Computer graphics are getting really good. Okay, this is not a lesson about college, but the level of technical detail in Monsters University is incredible, especially in the lighting and textures. The Blue Umbrella, the short that precedes the movie, is similarly impressive.

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As sociologists from around the country (and even the world!) head to Denver, here are a few things to keep you entertained: First, a post about making ASA better by using Twitter and other forms of digital communication (I think I joined Twitter once. I might have to dig out my account in preparation for the conference). Second, Kieran takes this year’s bingo card to the next level, complete with a “mobile app” version. Finally, and most importantly (and perplexingly), instructions on how to use ASA’s preliminary online program to put your conference schedule into your Outlook and/or Google calendars. The perplexing part is that although you cannot see locations anywhere on your schedule when using the ASA’s website, they’re there when you open the calendar on your computer or mobile device. If these locations are correct, why is the ASA hiding them from us when we use their preliminary program? If they are not correct, I’m going to be awfully disappointed when I get to Denver! Enjoy your flights and don’t forget that the scavenger hunt begins tomorrow morning!

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As I said last week, what we need is not an ASA bingo, but rather an ASA scavenger hunt. In a scavenger hunt, everybody is free to seek the items on the list in any location and order they choose, making this format perfect for a large conference like ASA. A scavenger hunt also allows for there to be a winner! Thank you to everybody who submitted suggestions. In keeping with previous ASA Bingo cards and their detractors I have tried to create a list that balances cynicism with (hopefully) positive experiences.

Click here to download the 2012 ASA Scavenger Hunt and don’t forget to read the complete rules below.

The 2012 ASA Scavenger Hunt Rules:

  • The 2012 ASA Scavenger Hunt is open to anybody who is attending this year’s ASA conference in Denver. Your status as an undergraduate, grad student, assistant professor, or “famous” sociologist will not affect your chances of winning.
  • Record the dates, times, locations, and/or session numbers for the items on the list between Friday, August 17 and Monday, August 20.
  • Items may be double-counted. This means that if, for example, you attend an 8 am session that includes a paper titled “Farm Sociology: Bringing Cattle Back In” in which every presentation is interesting to you, an audience member asks a question that is actually a statement, the person next to you is sleeping, and the third presenter cannot get his flash drive to work you will have covered items 1-6 on the list.
  • The person who submits a form accounting for the most items will receive $50. The date and time of submission will be used as a tiebreaker.
  • All entries must be submitted to socslac@gmail.com by midnight Eastern time on Tuesday, August 21. Submissions can be scanned, photographed, or typed (except #18).
  • The winner’s name, along with his or her winning entry, will be posted here in order to demonstrate that there was actually a winner and to discourage falsified entries.
  • I will be playing along and will keep you posted on my own progress throughout the weekend. Although this blog is pseudonymous, I promise that I will not declare myself the winner!
  • If you would like to discuss your own progress on Twitter, use hashtag #ASAHunt.
  • Have fun!

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For the past three years, Kieran at Orgtheory has posted ASA bingo cards in advance of the annual meeting. For the past three years, however, there has been a problem. No, I don’t mean the complaints of some that the bingo cards could be too cynical. I can be fairly cynical about conferences myself. The problem with an ASA bingo card is that the ASA experience is inherently unlike the game of bingo.

Bingo is played in a room full of [smoke and] other people, each with randomized cards listening to eliminate enough numbers to win. Without doing something radical like emailing Kieran to ask, I assume that John Siracusa’s bingo cards for Apple keynote presentations provided the inspiration for the original ASA bingo card. The first of these, in 2006, included a standard card in addition to twenty randomized versions allowing different chances to win. (Incidentally, none of them were winners.) The beauty of Siracusa’s keynote bingo was that individuals in the audience could conceivably follow along, checking off events until somebody won and shouted “bingo!” in the middle of Steve Jobs’ introduction of some new product. (As far as I know, this has never actually happened, which is unfortunate.)

Which brings me to the solution. What we need is not an ASA bingo, but rather an ASA scavenger hunt. In a scavenger hunt, everybody is free to seek the items on the list in any location and order they choose, making this format perfect for a large conference like ASA. I will post the scavenger hunt form in advance of ASA next week, but if you have suggestions for inclusions in the meantime (especially if those inclusions go beyond the things included in the previous bingo cards that I linked to in the first paragraph) please send them to socslac@gmail.com.

The other problem with the ASA bingo cards is that there has never, to my knowledge, been a winner. I hope that the scavenger hunt format will make winning more likely, but I will also encourage submissions with a prize. The winner of the first-annual ASA scavenger hunt will receive $50 in cash. Official rules will be posted with my scavenger hunt form next week. Tell your friends.

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A few years ago when a larger, textbook-sized version of the Kindle was released I called it “the beginning of the end for textbooks.” While the Kindle DX still exists, it is not currently advertised as a part of the “Kindle Family” on the Amazon homepage. Bigger, it seems, is not necessarily more popular. Two years ago, Apple unveiled the iPad, which also had potential for supplanting textbooks through its color screen and Apple’s media connections. Last week, Apple took its biggest step yet in that direction, revealing an updated version of its iBooks software (conveniently named “iBooks 2”) that is designed to make it easier to create textbook content for iPads. This extends beyond large companies to individuals who want to format course materials by embedding things like media and PDFs.

Given complaints about the (ever-increasing) costs of textbooks, the idea that digitized textbooks could be cheaper for students is promising. Of course, digitized textbooks give publishers more control over their product by reducing or eliminating students’ ability to resell their books at the end of the semester. Digitized textbooks, whether through an iPad, a Kindle, or a Nook, also increase the up-front costs for students to varying degrees. This may not be an issue for college students, who spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks in a given semester, but cost is a serious barrier to the adoption of digitized textbooks at the K-12 levels (and is even more problematic when damage and replacement costs are considered). I’m also in agreement with Kieran at Crooked Timber that we likely do not need videos and other crap clogging up our educational materials (as in Al Gore’s iPad “book”).

Two years after its announcement, I still don’t have an iPad. I’m actually much more interested in the ability to read and annotate PDF versions of journal articles than I am in the ability to create media-rich readings for my students. Nevertheless, I still think that my prediction from the iPad’s reveal could come true. At the time, I wrote, “In 2015 I’ll probably look back at this post from my own iPad while my students complete the course readings and take class notes on their own iPads and laugh at how foolish I was.” If prices can come down and devices like these can achieve ubiquity among students, last week’s Apple announcement may become the middle of the end for traditional textbooks.

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