Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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Wikis, TEVALs, and mobos

After our FIBR meeting yesterday, I walked back to Rathbone Hall with my friend and colleague Sanjoy Das from EECE, and we talked a bit about writing textbooks and online references on Bayesian networks. I am definitely going to start a MediaWiki-based GMWiki with his help, though as zengeneral notes, this should really belong to Wikipedia itself.

The problem is, if you look at Memory Alpha (Star Trek), Wookieepedia (Star Wars), and Supermanica (Superman), they have higher quality in a lot of areas because of the concentration. People write and edit articles to a higher standard of quality when it's a focused group instead of everyone and his or her1 brother is coming in to edit.

We also talked about undergrad teaching and evaluations.

Our teaching evaluations (TEVALs) are Scantron-based with blanks for writing comments. They matter a bit more in EECE than in CIS, and in fact, I think full professors campus-wide are not required to have them, though I for one intend to always have them. I've had the occasional "best professor I've ever had" or "best course I've had this year" comments that produce that warm fuzzy feeling, but for the most part, my comments are "the workload is too high" (something I don't usually agree with), "material coverage is too dense" (something I've already compensated for several years running), or "we want homeworks graded sooner" (something I've resolved to work on).

One thing about TEVALs that I've decided to tell all of my students about is that there is really only one score that "counts": overall teaching effectiveness. That, in turn, is a function of the student-rated effectiveness and the change in the interest level before and after the course! In other words, if you're not very interested in algorithms (3 on a 1-5 scale) before taking CIS 570 and Dr. Stoughton gets you enthusiastic about automata theory (4 on a 1-5 scale), the delta counts in his favor. If you're excited about AI before taking CIS 730 and are discouraged by the difficulty of the material as I present it, a change from 4 to 3 will count against me. I disclose this to students because I think that it's a baseless handicap for elective courses, where people typically come in with 4s and 5s and leave with 3s and 4s. Conversely, there is a bonus for instructors of large required classes such as CIS 200 and CIS 300, where the trend in interest level is usually reversed. If you look at the "instructor's FAQ list" for TEVALs, it says (paraphrased):

Q: Doesn't this favor required courses over elective courses?
A: Yeah, kind of. Maybe it should.

As I tell students, they are encouraged to put down whatever they really feel, but I think they are entitled to the facts.

And now for something completely different: What kind of motherboard and processors should I get for my Ubercomputer? I'm thinking dual-core 64-bit, but I have no personal preference. My overall budget for the system, not including monitors, is $4000. Please comment, and I will make a poll later in the week.

1 taiji_jian, gondhir, and I had a debate this afternoon about the appropriateness of "he"/"his" as neuter pronouns. I agree with taiji_jian that "he" is acceptable in colloquial speech, but I also agree with gondhir that regardless of intent, or even perception, "he" is inherently sexist. I also agree with Strunk and White that "they" is not grammatical. After a long discussion, we concurred that most of the time, the problem can be solved by rewriting the sentence with better structure.

Tags: motherboards, tevals, wikis, writing style
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