Marketing Tools and Learning Metaphors

February 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm (Metaphors and Allegories) (, , , , , , , )

As a CMU Delt, I often partake in Delt activities, make use of Delt resources, and hang out with my Delt brothers. I, probably more than anyone else, know how difficult it is to drive the herd to a new pasture. In the distant past we tried rolling out a BB, a phpBB 3.0 forum, a Shareflow, and now a Drupal wiki. Getting everyone to register on the same network, no matter how great I or the respective admin think it a step forward, is one of the most grueling, frustrating, and unproductive processes that I have ever undergone. The worst is that even when a majority of the users have finally registered, there is no incentive to actually make use of the system.

Until now. One of my brothers came up with an internal game: each brother must declare himself the absolute best at some unique activity within our fraternity. Everyone else can then challenge their title, and claim it if they win the challenge. The massive e-peen style bragging rights of owning multiple titles is already driving brothers to challenge each other. With half of the brotherhood claiming their titles, and 8 challenges already announced, I consider this a successful venture given that it has only been one day since I rolled it out.

The marketing tool: I started the title signup over e-mail, but I placed the list of titles and challenges behind the Drupal Wiki registration. So half of the brotherhood has declared a title and are now committed to the game, but must register for the wiki resource to keep track of everyone else. Frequent visits to the wiki will hopefully prompt more involvement in filling it out with content, but at least the registration problem has been surmounted!

On the other side of the table I’ve been reflecting on how I learn. Back when I was taking the various levels of Calculus, I always suggested that I understood the material best after we had applied it to the next topic. Unfortunately, this often came after the exam, so my self-appraised knowledge meant diddly squat in the calculation of my grade. It appears that in my Conflict and Dispute Resolution class I’ve hit the same problem (along with the rest of the class). We were all called out on our unanimous failure to complete the assigned reading, which is a breach of our “learning contracts.”

After forgoing the intended topic and instead discussing our problem, the best argument that we were able to come up with was that some of us learn better when we are given an active chance to exhibit the topic in class, or are provided with an example first, and are then given the option to research the theory more deeply afterwards. I illustrate this with the hallway metaphor.

Imagine that any theory is a hallway lined with doors to rooms. The rooms are examples: situations where the theory works to explain something concrete, singular. Reading about the theory first is like hearing tales of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the eclairs, the river, without actually seeing it. I propose instead that we start in a room, and explore it the way CSI might explore a crime scene, searching for the events that lead to a murder. I propose we explore that example, which hopefully makes no sense, until we apply the theory, which is provided by the instructor. It is like opening that door and realizing where the room was located in space. Now that I am facing the hallway, I can walk around and open other doors, apply the theory to other situations and examples.

The alternative, where the theory comes first, starts me in the hallway. It tells me things about that hallway that I have no way of anchoring, and tells me so many things that by the time I need them, I will forget most of them. When I am finally placed in the hallway, I am placed facing into a room, looking at one example. I start applying the theory right away under the assumption that it was correct, without ever trying anything else. And now my memory is of how this example pertains to the theory, rather than of how I used the theory to dissect the example. I will not realize that there are other doors behind me in the hallway – I will never apply the theory in situations that are incongruous with that first example.

I learn by curiosity: I frame things as problems, and look for their solutions. It isn’t fair to tell me what the solution is without first giving me a stab at the problem: I get nothing from seeing the answers to the SAT without first struggling with the questions. How then, is it fair to prime my learning by making me read the theory before I’ve had a chance to stumble onto it myself? Am I a wikipedia page, taught to spew forth aggregated knowledge, or am I a difference engine, capable of solving problem by processing information?

I say down with required reading. I didn’t teach myself PHP because I read a book: I read a book because I wanted to use PHP to make a website. My brothers didn’t register for the Drupal Wiki to become contributors: they registered to solve the problem of having no access to the content they wanted.

I wont learn anything by reading a book before I come to class: I will read the book because what I learned in class made my curiosity itch for more.

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Justice, Integrity, and Objectivity

April 5, 2009 at 11:48 am (Wrongs of the World) (, , , , , , , , )

Objectivity is a rather uncanny concept. Every court case, every peer review, every time any issue of justice comes up, the call is to “be objective”. I would like to hypothesize that this doesn’t actually mean anything. We define objectivity as the best interests of the governing law system of the society in which the issue at hand has occurred, so really, we are just being socially subjective (assuming that the set of laws has been written to truly represent those best interest of that society). We can argue all we want, but I fell that I should describe a case that I presided over just today (without breaching confidentiality, of course).

I am Sergeant-at-Arms of Delta Beta Crescent Colony of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity at Carnegie Mellon University, a role that was assigned to me by a team of three (or four) consultants. Every chapter has it’s own organizational structure, but when colonies are formed is is simplest that the Sergeant-at-Arms serve in two roles: his own, and the Chairman of the Honor Board. The Sergeant-at-Arms writes the bylaws, and the HB Chairman enforces them. I am effectively Judge and Executioner, coupled with the Honor Board, which serves as Jury.

When first tasked with the above, I had intended to keep to the books, be wholly impartial, be wholly objective, and thereby act as a fair judge. This is the wrong way to go about it. The bylaws that I wrote are not simply my own: they are based on those of a well established chapter, and they have been reviewed by at least three alumni from other chapters a total of at least ten times. As well, the colony has been voting on these bylaws, article by article, making corrections where necessary, so as to ratify them.

The Accused at today’s hearing is a rather active Freshman, and has actually made the effort to offer corrections on my bylaws – the only one to do so without them coming up on screen at General Body meeting. So, the only one to offer suggestions of his own accord. Interestingly enough, I was morally opposed to almost every one of his many suggestions, and found the remainder to be worse than my original. We have not yet ratified everything, but what we have ratified is in agreement with me, and in direct disagreement with the accused.

He has been a problem from the start – both with his bad reputation on campus (which I still cannot fathom how he attained before even the conclusion of his Freshman year), and with his inability to function in a social setting without saying something stupid. His libertarian views apparently give him leave to have rude outbursts against the governing authority of just about every organization (unless he is the one leading it). So far as I understand, he is also a liar (or, more likely, he is in too much of a haze to actually remember the events that happen, what order they happen in, and when they haven’t actually happened).

As a result, when the Colony finally decided that yes, he should be brought to Honor Board, no one stepped up. So I took the flag, and was right to do so. Who better to protect the laws, then the man who wrote them? Those bylaws define our organization, determine what makes us us, separate us from other fraternities, and separate each member from non-members. I did my research on this guy, as biased as I was, and only became more biased as the evidence grew stronger. I would think that, finding more and more evidence against the accused’s Delthood, my bias against him was making me only more objective! In fact, the case that I built was structured only on the basis of the national bylaws. Objectivity was no longer defined in social terms, but in the terms of the Fraternity. No, not even so broad: in the terms of our thirty man colony. Objectivity does NOT scale.

I was chosen to serve as the Sergeant-at-Arms because I had first applied to be Risk Manager, and was transparent about my view for the organization from the very start. Well, following a decisive (and wholly unsurprising) Honor Board Hearing (which admittedly lasted an extra hour because I was nice about letting him say what he wanted to say), he proceeded to complain to the Vice President and President that I did not make a good Honor Board Chairman, because I was too biased. I say that, so long as I am biased in the best interests of the organization (which I defined, and the organization has apparently agreed with), I am just about the best Honor Board Chairman that the organization can currently have. And no, this isn’t power grubbing: I’ll be a senior next year, and so shall be ineligible for Executive positions.

My situation is so uniquely empowering, that it makes me cringe at the future, if it so happens that someone who does not share my views becomes Honor Board President, that the Colony amends the bylaws, and that the direction in which I have helped point the organization changes. Of course, we are human, so perhaps my direction isn’t the right one, but instead I am influential enough to have turned everyone toward it, so far.

Or maybe I’m being influenced by someone else, and just don’t know it yet. Regardless, I have a newfound appreciation for Thomas Jefferson and for all committed policy makers, and a disdain for those other policy makers who clearly don’t deserve their positions.

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RIASEC, Science, Permeating Irrationality

March 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , )

Our Delta Beta Crescent Colony of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity just had a “Dream Job” presentation based on the RIASEC theory. Our President and Vice President were both Enterprising, meaning that once they graduate the colony will have to fall into a period of stagnation until someone else who is Enterprising is recruited. I happened to be Investigative, with close seconds in Social and Conventional. To adapt myself to the prescribed stereotypes, I agree. I love Physics, which is Science, which uses the Scientific Method, so Investigative makes quite a bit of sense. One of my (many) flaws is my steadfastness in my current assumptions. To be fair, given decisive evidence I will drop my beliefs in a heartbeat, but until then I stand by them (for example, religion is a nuisance and bad influence on society, and is no better than hard drugs). However, what this flaw does do is make me an enabler: if I agree with someone, I will echo their thoughts, reinforce them, and do my best to help them realize their intentions. Hence, Social. And, based on my (not always successful) runs as forum administrator and my recent spike in campus involvement (Safewalk, Safezone, SAA, 1in4) and my executive officer position in the Fraternity, well, it would seem that I at least try to be an organizer. Wikipedia tells me that this makes me Conventional.

As to what I’m not: Realistic, Artistic, Enterprising. I will enable (being Social), but will not get my hands dirty (hence not Realistic). I will organize or even reorganize (being Conventional) but I will not innovate (hence not Artistic). I will think (being Investigative), but I will not hope (hence not Enterprising). As far as this relates to science, RIASEC tells me that I should be a theorist rather than an experimentalist. Not because I can’t (In fact, I am enjoying Modern Physics Laboratory very much and doing quite well in it) but because the best experimentalists are innovative and hands on, and are able to convince the big wigs with the money that the LHC is a necessity, and that one quarter of the experimental space should be theirs. So they are Artistic, Realistic, and Enterprising. I’m not. Damn.

Theorists live longer anyway, right? Then again, ISC does not likely make me a theorist (well, I helps, but S and C are stretch). Well, the contrapositive is that experimentalists don’t live longer, and I’ll just say “… than me” and be done with it. Speaking of living longer, Spock wished it on everyone, and he was a frequent flier. The worst segue of all time.

I took a flight last night on a De Havilland Dash 8 Q400. With 4 seats per row, and propellers rather than reactive engines, the real defining feature of the smallitude of the aircraft was that the stewardess, when pushing the beverage cart, was unable to give away cans of juice or soda because the cart was only large enough to hold at most three cans of each beverage (and in some cases only one can). As per some recent news stories I have begun to peruse PlaneCrashInfo.com.

How is that at all relevant to… anything? I will generalize to say that everyone has phobias. Some are so irrational and overwhelming, like claustro-, that I wont even delve in that direction. Fear of a plane crashing? Wholly idiotic, unless you have some method of stopping it. It is one thing to fear dying (or at least not want to die), but to fear death while already on the plane? Unless your plane is being hijacked, you have no control over your “fate”, if you will. Unless you’re in the cockpit, in which case there damn better be a good reason for that (like, you’re the pilot). The man next to me was freaking out. While we taxied to the runway, on take off, in the air, and during the bumpy landing. In case you read this, sir, let me just tell you that you will die young. Worrying leads to stress, and stress prevents your body from regenerating your blood cells at an appropriate rate. You’ll die of old age, at a young age. (To clarify, that was a Google search. Unlike Wikipedia, things on Google are NOT always true. As a matter of fact, I didn’t actually read the page I just linked.)

It is rational to worry about your choices, and to perhaps make your choices based on what you hear in the news (though they are likely just as irrational as you are, those reporters, newscasters, and editors, that you are better off waiting for statistics to appear on Wikipedia). For example, it might be prudent not to choose flights that use the Q400 series aircraft. The point is that once you have made this possibly poor decision, you should be resigned to your fate. Unless you want to be tazed, once the cabin door has been closed you will either make it to your destination, or you wont. So pick up a book, or whip out your laptop, and amuse yourself. If you are going to die, at least die happy :).

Jay Jay the Jet Plane

This guy will!

The moral of the story is that it is rational to have rational fears – so as to guide your current choices. It is irrational to have irrational fears – instead, one should make conclusions and mental notes to influence their future choices. If that doesn’t make sense, then I recommend therapy.

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Strike that, Reverse it!

November 22, 2008 at 8:33 pm (Making Sense of Things) (, , , , , , , , )

So much time, so little to do!

Delta Tau Delta has recolonized at Carnegie Mellon, and despite my initial reluctance I was drafted into the Delta Beta Crescent Colony. Despite my dislike for extra work, I was appointed by the consultants as Sergeant-at-Arms and Honor Board Chairman. I am now stuffing my nose into every committee as they are forming, involving myself in nearly every bit of colony business, working towards building the colony’s website, and writing the colony bylaws.

I also went through SafeZone training, which is GLBT awareness/sensitivity/Ally training, and I think falls in well with Sexual Assault Advisor training. Although unrelated, my binder of being a community resource is growing. Coupled with the experience I will gain from running the Honor Board, writing the bylaws, helping with the New Member Education committee, and my involvement in the Service/Philanthropy/Fundraising Committee and the Social Committee… Well, I believe I will have, in this one semester, introduced an extracurriculars section to my resume as well as gaining a wide assortment of skills.

Luckily, Thanksgiving is coming, and I will be giving thanks to the holiday break for giving me a chance to sit down and write those bylaws.

Moral of the story: I have no gods, and yet I am somehow moral enough to be appointed to a position of authority in a fraternal organization. I am ethical enough to have been selected to write the ethical code of this organization, and I apparently have enough integrity to have been chosen to conduct the honor board. I have no gods, and yet I now have a social network that connects me to thousands of people who share my values. What is the tenet of Delta Tau Delta? “Committed to Lives of Excellence”. Not “Committed to the Service of God”. If I can have all of these things without gods, what is the benefit of believing in gods at all? I have already discounted the promise of an afterlife, I have discounted the necessity of religion for morality, and just now I have discounted the necessity of religion for community. What are the other benefits of religion, if any? Perhaps “security”, or “hope”. I’ll have to think on how to discount the necessity or success of religion with regards to each of those.

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