Thursday, October 22, 2009

And the latest problem...

It has been, at this point, a thoroughly disheartening week at the iSchool.

Monday: INF1002 Professor, Lynne Howarth, delivered a lecture entirely from her slides, almost verbatim, citing Wikipedia as her main reference for several parts of it. Students were allowed to evaluate the class. From what I hear, it was almost universally panned.

Tuesday: already heard about Tuesday. Comrade Comissar Dean and Glorious Five Year Plan.

Wednesday: INF1300 students are handed back their first paper. Everyone is marked down for not using secondary sources. Students were told by Professor Caidi, in class, two weeks previous not to include secondary sources in their papers, as they only needed the interview itself in order to present their case. TA was flummoxed. I really like Professor Caidi, she seems like a genuinely intelligent, knowledgeable, and interesting person, and is probably the only professor (with the possible exception of Prof. David Phillips in INF1003) who I actually feel tries to connect personally with her students. But the *ENTIRE CLASS* was nodding and agreeing vocally when I informed the TA that we had been told not to include secondary sources, that they were not necessary, and that we didn't have to worry about a citations page. There is the possibility that we might all get re-marked next week. I am unsure.

Finally, my blog seems to be getting a surprising degree of traffic from my classmates. Which...actually kinda confuses me, because I had absolutely no idea any of them read it, or indeed even knew it existed. I gave one person the address so they could read my summary of the Dean's address...but...huh. *shrug* Well, hey, folks! Guess I'll have to be more careful with what I write, given that I'm getting attention here.

The simple fact, at day's end, however is that I am really not enjoying my program. The classes are problematic and redudant, the professors are having great difficulty teaching classes of our size (and many admit to never having taught classes this big before), and the whole system just seems to have been thrown together with duct tape and bailing wire, hoping it will hold.

Well. Let me end with a brief little analysis.

Our course of study is information infrastructure. The systems of our program transmit information from the professors on one end to the students on the other. We are the end users of our program. According to Star, one of the qualities of infrastructure is that it becomes visible upon breakdown. Otherwise, people tend to ignore it. They take it for granted. In a normal course of study, we accept that we will be asked to attend class, read material, write papers, give presentations, and the like. This system functions as the fundamental infrastructure underlaying our graduate program. Normally, it is invisible. It is accepted. However, the infrastructure has been twisted in such a way as to become inoperable. It has broken down. It has become visible.

Information infrastructure is analogous to Law's heterogeneous engineering. It is composed of many parts which associate with each other to create a greater whole. Students, faculty, computer systems, papers, readings, the rooms themselves, all come together to create the whole of our program, to create something that is greater as a whole than any could be individually. Disassociation of one part of the network, however, can cause major problems, more so than if the components were separate. Disassociation causes the network to be seen as a network, rather than a single whole. And once again, we are seeing disassociation of aspects of the network.

Shall I analyze what is going wrong? Shall I take a look at where our infrastructure has broken down, where our network has suffered disassociation? I'm not sure how useful it would be, but it might help organize my thoughts on this. They encourage us to write and to apply what we have learned. I am sorely tempted to use what I have learned and apply it to the Faculty, to make some use of the jargon laden, applied computer theory that they have given us and put it to the ends they seem to expect us to use it for. We are told to study information itself, to study data, to study documentation, to study how people interact with information, and yet the only examples we are given are those of computers.

Written above the gates of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi were the words "Gnothi seauton": Know Thyself. It is fundamental to so many things, is self awareness. It is fundamental to all wisdom seekers...and to all wisdom givers. To understand others, first one must understand one's self. It is fundamental to the giving of wisdom, for how can you give a thing to others if you do not see it in yourself? It is easy to analyze other things, but turning the lens inward is harder. I feel that this is what the Faculty is truly missing. There is a plan. I don't have an issue with thinking in the long term. But this plan is occurring to the detriment of the Faculty's current students, because those who are heading the plan refuse to look at what this is doing to those students. "Know thyself".

However I should stop writing now, as I'm getting into a philosophical tangent. Its 1am. Its been a long 3 days. A long 7 days if you could the last three and the four I spent smashing my head against a wall working on the INF1001 paper, trying to pull the rabbit out of my not inconsiderably sized top hat. I need to get to work on the INF1003 paper, the script for the INF1002 presentation (as well as my notes for my part of the paper), and my side of the INF1300 annotated bibliography...

...and somewhere in there I need to get more notes together for my NaNoWriMo novel, "Requiem for a Fictonaut", and prep for ICC!

"I will relax in Atlanta" is my new mantra. I may have to drop out of some of the volunteering I'm doing there. I can't afford to go there and need a vacation from my vacation.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, another 2nd yr student - in regards to your complaints with the Nadia Caidi assignment, I feel like the same thing happened last year.

We would be told repeatedly in class to use a certain number of sources only from our readings for the paper. Sending an email to the TA to ask a question about the assignment would elicit a response like 'I don't see how you wouldn't be able to use outside sources' or '[the specified number of articles] really isn't nearly enough for this.' The next class, the prof would again reiterate to use only x number of articles from the readings. It went on like this for the 3 papers. By the last one, most of use were just writing nonsense with no idea what the purpose of the paper was in order to move on to Christmas break. We feel your pain. This program is a joke.

11:21 a.m.  
Blogger Kaye Prince said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:13 p.m.  
Blogger Kaye Prince said...

Hey Derek,

I just wanted to let you know (since you mentioned in this post that you didn't know how traffic was coming to your blog) that a link to your post about what happened in INF1001 was posted to a new Facebook group for the Association of Concerned iSchool Students. Just a heads up so you know.

-Kaye: I'm the girl you called Hermione in our online research workshop :)

8:14 p.m.  
Blogger Derek the Bard said...

Thanks, Kaye. I figured that was probably what had happened, but I wasn't sure.

11:45 p.m.  
Anonymous hermes trismegistus said...

engýa pára d'atē

"Self-mastery... is it a critical mind or a lesson in humility?"
-von Neumann

The neophytes caterwaul thunderously at the temple walls, but what do they seek...? May 68 in the bowels of Bissell? A civil service entry-point? A professional upgrade? To slay the professorial clique with a volley of barbs?


Such unbridled disgust with the status quo. It's a posture of strength, and a symbol of mastery. Yet, unfocused, and equally mixed with doubt, it's hardly a movement for positive change.

You're one of the smarter ones, and you make your way. Change it for the better if you can. But remember... these silent temple walls have seen and heard much. Are you so different from the other champions of discontent? Maybe you're here for a reason, and this is your part to play. Neo: There were others like you, who also read Snow Crash and wore Prussian field marshals' uniforms... They remember these days fondly - "with a rebel yell" - and so will you. It's a rite of passage to adulthood. The last gasp of youthful vigor.

Ahhh... but to lead... to transform youth into something dependable, to strive to inherit the keys to the temple... that's something else.

Listen to your more constructive brethren. Join committees, working groups, and volunteer in societies. Through unabashed service and zealous study, you will discover the temple and its mysteries.

gnōthi seautón

2:07 p.m.  

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