Monday, February 21, 2011

An attribution error in teaching

I had the most interesting experience in my criminology class. I've taught it maybe 8 times over the years, and it always go well. Hey, who doesn't love serial murderer jokes?

Well, this class has met five times, and the first four times were dreadful. Sure, I got the material out, and the students participated enough, but the whole atmosphere was dry and boring. Think tumbleweeds blowing through the classroom, crickets chirping, dry coughs--well, you get it.  They even didn't laugh at a particular slide that I put up that for 8 years running has caused uproarious laughter.

In thinking about it, I've had had this happen in two other classes here at UConn, and all three boring classes were in similar classrooms--about 80 people, old fashioned seats/desks, and crowded rooms, and so I started to wonder if part of the problem was the physical setting. I talked to a friend about this, and he suggested that I do an experiment and switch classrooms. I did, to a larger, auditorium-style classroom, and it went great. They were engaged, talkative, and, most importantly, laughed at my jokes.

I'm so attuned to person-attributions, such as I'm doing a good/bad job of teaching or the students are good/bad participants, that I overlook physical atmosphere effects. If nothing else, I'm requesting auditorium-style seating from now on.

This also makes me wonder about church seating. Seems like a lot of churches have a similar layout to my "boring" classrooms. Does anyone know of research on the effects of sanctuary layout? It would be interesting.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Yet another fear message

Last week, I flew out to Seattle for a conference, and, as I usually try to do, I sat in the back of the airplane (maximizes chance for open seat next to me). This meant that I got to listen to two stewardesses talking next to me, in between shifts of racing the food cart up and down the aisle.

One of them went of on a bit of a rant about high school girls getting pregnant, and she made the case that because of some reality tv show about teenage moms (we don't have TV, so I'll take it on faith that it exists), now high school girls are intentionally getting pregnant so that they can be on reality TV. The stewardess paused and mournfully exclaimed, "what is this country coming to?"

Certainly the number of out-of-wedlock births has increased, though much faster among women over 20 than under 20, still it's hard to see a reality-tv show tie in. Given all the stupid things that people do on reality tv, I certainly hope that not many people seek to emulate them.

At the very least, I've gotten to the point where I almost automatically discount statements that include the phrase: "what is xxxxx coming to."  They seem to almost always be wrong or at least very exaggerated.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why I'm not a computer tech

I used to think that I am reasonably competent when it comes to computer use, until this week.

First, I had a laptop given to me, and while I enjoyed using it, the screen was rather dark. So, if it was sunny outside, I would have to close the curtains. This has gone on for about a month before I realized that I could make the screen brighter.

Then, I was dragging a file in Windows, and I unexpectedly sneezed. When I looked up, the file was no where to be found. I had accidentally dragged it into some random folder, and it took me about 5 minutes to find it.

Finally, and this is the best, my high school son Floyd got a computer last Fall, and part of the agreement was that I would install a parental filter on it. I did, and several times I adjusted the settings on it to make it safer for a teenager to use. Well, come to find out that the filtering program that I use doesn't support Macs, so there's been not filter on his computer. Doh-h-h-h.

So, if you need any help with your computer, just let me know.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ted Haggard, falling down and not letting go

GQ recently had an interesting interview with Ted Haggard, former bigtime Evangelical pastor.

In it I was struck by how much difficulty he seems to have of letting go what happened--both by him, and, especially in reaction to him. As I understand it, New Life Church gave him a big severance payment but required him to leave the state for a couple of years.

Now Ted is back in Colorado Springs, staring a new church.

This article got me thinking about some pastors' ego-investment and identification with their churches--especially when the pastor either planted the church or had been with it for a long time.

When things are going well in that type of situation, what's good for the church is also good for the pastor. The church grows, s/he feels good about doing a good job. When the church has significant accomplishments, some of the credit goes to the pastor. In this sense, the ego-invested pastor basically spends most their work life doing things that can make them feel better about themselves and look better to others. (Not saying this happens to all or even most pastors).

This provides incentive for the pastor to put a lot of work and time into the church, making it all that more successful.

The problems with this approach are put into relief when the pastor is forced out of the church. It must be very confusing for the pastor when a group of people decide that what's best for the church (e.g., the pastor having to leave) is not what the pastor feels is best for himself/herself.

This must make it very confusing for someone like Ted Haggard to understand that an action deemed best for the church pushes him away from it.

I suppose a corollary to this might be that some pastors feel that what's good for them is, by definition, good for the church.

This highlights the need for pastors to have healthy, balanced lives outside of the church so that they don't view the church almost as an extension of themselves.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Body posture in a developing country

Over the break, my wife and I spent a glorious week on the Caribbean island of Nevis. We spent our time swimming, snorkeling, walking along the beach, and driving on the wrong side of the road.

After a few days, I started to notice something. When we were around both tourists (mostly American) and locals, the locals had much better body posture. As a whole, they stood up rather straight and had normal walking gaits. In contrast, it was not infrequent for the tourists to be slumping or hunched over. After I noticed this, I started paying more attention, and I found relatively few exceptions.

It made me wonder if the American (western?) lifestyle, complete with sedentary activity and high levels of stress, didn't manifest itself on our bodies. This certainly seems to be the case with peoples' weight, but I wonder if it's also the case with body posture.

I don't know if I stand up straighter now, after a week on Nevis, but it sure helped me get the real winter that we've had here for the past month.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Professor Hitler reacts to a snow day

The best part about yet another snow day... somebody had time to put together this video.  (Jay Hickey is the guy who announces class cancellations).