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Archive for September, 2013

Today’s Technological Middle School

Friday, September 13th, 2013

(or, Welcome to the Future)

Last night, I went to parent-teacher night at my daughter’s school. Here is a list of things I wrote down that differ from when I went to middle school. Since I’m a social media researcher, many of them have to do with technology and social media. I thought someone else might find them of interest.

Things in middle school today that differ from my childhood:

  • The “loaner Kindles.”
  • Everyone gets a “certificate of participation” for everything.
  • Cyber-bullying prevention assembly is held once each year.*
  • Giant flatscreen TV looks weird on a rolling cart.
  • No recess.
  • Less unstructured time.
  • 20 minute lunch.
  • School day is shorter.
  • Along with Kleenex and colored pencils, the “teacher wish list” has software licenses.
  • “No cut” athletics.
  • All of the good teachers have a Weebly.
  • Video lectures sent home on thumb drives “in case your broadband is slow.”
  • Physical Education (Phys Ed) is optional.
  • Shop classes replaced by computer classes, called “Technical Education” (Tech Ed).
  • The Concussion Awareness Campaign.
  • Most common use of Internet in school: YouTube.
  • Most FAQ from parents: “How often do you post grades on Powerschool?” (Powerschool is proprietary courseware.)
  • Many textbooks are PDFs.
  • As part of a “back strain prevention program” there are two copies of the heaviest textbooks — one for school and one for home.
  • When I was a kid: “school resource officer.” Today: “police-free schools.” (Yes Ann Arbor is liberal and affluent.)
  • Can’t make a move without a contract that the parent and the child has to sign.
  • “For safety,” students not allowed in school building before or after school.
  • Student art projects come home via the equivalent of Cafe Press. We got a mug.
  • Whole school smells strongly of Axe.

* — An actual quote from a handout: “Facebook, cellphone cameras and texting, My Space [sic], FormSpring, X-box live, etc. are just some of the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ that are in your children’s hands.”  

Me: “FormSpring?!”

Me: “Also, ‘My Space’ doesn’t have a space.”

Me: “Also, also, I think ‘My Space’ is over now.”

(This was cross-posted to the Social Media Collective.)

Creative Names for College Classes

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

(or, Naming “Unorthodox Research Methods”)

When it came time to choose a title for my university class Unorthodox Research Methods (COMM 840/SI 755 at the University of Michigan), I decided to put some explicit effort into class naming.  I’m not sure how many university professors think carefully about their course titles. But I wanted to try.

College teachers have inherited a strange, traditional system of naming and college transcripts that seems to have been generated to satisfy the character length limits of some ancient teletype. (One class on my grad school transcript is listed as “FUNC COM SOC” — another is “STRUC & INST COM SYS”.)

Even when the names are spelled out, the genre of class naming itself is quite odd, and it is often deservedly parodied.

But some professors clearly put some thought into course names.  I set out to find them. I asked several of the college teachers and students I know if they had heard of particularly interesting class titles.  I reviewed all of the Web articles I could find listing the “Craziest College Classes” and the like.

I discovered something about the genre. I assert it is hard to have an interesting course title about an uninteresting topic and vice versa.  While “Brothel Management” (thanks, UNLV) may be an unusual title it is not clever. The same goes with “Ice Sculpture” and “The History of Surfing.” Yes, the topic is striking, but the title is ordinary.  But the class title seems interesting because of the topic.

So to some degree these two things have to be related. Yet “Tractor Driving” (in Agriculture) and “Extraterrestrial Life” (in Astronomy)  have very uncreative names when you think about it. So I decided to focus on “creative” naming rather than “interesting” course names.

Creative class naming must be be on the rise. As institutions of higher education are all now basing budgets on a tuition-charge-back system where academic units are rewarded for class sizes, the profs are going to be looking around for ideas that sell their courses.

Using the distinction above, here are all of the course titles I found that were creatively named.  With two exceptions, they are all actual courses that were taught at universities, as far as I know.

Do you have any names to add?


Creative Names for College Classes:

Art 3xx: Political Ceramics

Communication 2NN: Media, Money, and Power

Computer Science 4xx: Coding the Matrix

Economics 4xx: Game Theory with Application in StarCraft

English 3xx: Illegible Writing (*)

English 4xx: Writing for Nonreaders

Environmental Science 4xx: The Joy of Garbage

Film Studies 4xx: Bad Movies

Government 4xx: Ignorance, Lies, Hogwash, and Humbug

History 4xx: The History of the Future

History 4xx: US History: The Awesomeness of Awesome Americans (*)

Indo-European Studies 3xx: Love in a Dead Language

Linguistics 4xx: Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond

Mathematics 1xx: Slot Machine Math

Media Studies 1xx: A World of Death and Blood (**)

Media Studies 2xx: How to Watch Television

Physics 1xx: Physics for Future Presidents

Race/Ethnicity 1xx: The Advantages of Being White

Sociology 1xx: Leading Social Thinkers and How to Drop Their Names

Sociology 4xx: Homosexuality as a Gateway Drug

Statistics 1xx: Fat Chance

Statistics 1xx: What are the Odds?

Philosophy 4xx: Things that Go Bump in the Night

Philosophy 4xx: Hallucinating

Psychology 4xx: Stupidity

Rhetoric 4xx: Conspiracy Theories

Social Work 4xx: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse



(*) – These are ideas for a course — the course itself was not taught.  For the History course, see:

(**) – I can’t figure out what this course is about, so it may not be a very effective title. Vampires? But it is creative.


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