Thursday, August 28, 2014

Scientific Literacy

Canadians do well, insists Canadian study, in scientific literacy.

The study itself didn't do so well, at least in methodological literacy. Here's the telling graf from the story linked to above:
The data was not all conducted at the same time. The data on Japan was collected in 2001, the European data in 2005, and as science literacy has been increasing generally all over the world in the past decade, these rankings may not be perfect, said Arthur Carty, chair of an expert panel involved in the report and executive director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology.
To really do this kind of study you need the same kinds of questions asked of people across countries at the same time.  To compare results from 2014 to 2001 is unfair and, to be honest, the kind of thing that would get a study rejected by even a low-tier academic journal.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Congress -- Best Forgotten?

Who's never heard of the U.S. Congress? Apparently, 1.2 percent of Iowans. Lucky bastards.

No, really. The topline for this Iowa poll presents a list of political actors and institutions for the traditional "favorability" ranking and, as an option, you could be undecided or "never heard of" the person or institution. Look at #19b. Yup, 1.2 percent, or 6 out 500 likely voters, said they'd never heard of the U.S. Congress.

If only we could all plead such ignorance. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I wrote yesterday about the military equipment sent to Georgia counties for law enforcement, including some oddities in the data. Go back and see that one if you missed it. Some funny stuff.

Let's continue. To start, I rank below the Top 5 Georgia counties in terms of how much military gear they received for law enforcement and, in parentheses, include the rank of each county by the number of crimes per 100,000 people. In other words, are more crime-ridden counties asking and getting more surplus military gear for their cops? Check it out.
  1. Fulton (6th)
  2. Carroll (42nd)
  3. Lee (81st)
  4. Walton (79th)
  5. Meriwether (50th)
Fulton County makes sense. It's Atlanta, it's huge. But look at the others. Carroll County not only received four grenade launchers, it's 2nd in terms of stuff received but ranked only 42nd in terms of number of crimes per 100,000 people.

Of course it may not be the amount of crime that drives this, but the poverty of the counties and how badly they need the gear. That's a reasonable hypothesis. Let's check it out.

Take Lee County -- 3rd on the military gear list, but 152nd in terms of poverty among Georgia's 159 counties. Carroll is 104th in poverty, Walton 139th. Meriwether County is 80th. As there are a number of counties with much higher poverty rates but lower on the military gear list, that's not a particularly compelling hypothesis. So what explains it? I dunno. It may be something as simple and non-linear as some counties have a person who realizes there's free stuff and knows how to get it. It makes as much sense as any other explanation, at least so far. I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Georgia's Favorite Military Surplus

The NYTimes did an excellent piece and map of all the counties in the U.S. that received military hardware for law enforcement. Now the raw data is available and I thought, for fun, I'd see what's the most popular military hardware in Georgia where I live. The top 10 below (raw number distributed in parentheses):
  1. 5.56 millimeter rifle: (2,797)
  2. .62 millimeter rifle: (1,096)
  3. .45 caliber pistol: (502)
  4. sight, reflex (367)
  5. truck, utility (346)
  6. shotgun, 12 gauge, riot type (190)
  7. illuminator, infrared (147)
  8. night vision sight (114)
  9. boots, combat (84)
  10. night vision googles (65)
Don't you feel safer now? Other fun factoids. Thirty-nine refrigerators were distributed (military fridges?), 16 microwaves, and 12 pressure washers. Meaning that's business lost to Lowe's and Home Depot. Other fun items: lubricating oil, "chute, ejection," a gimbal, a chock, "chalk, marking," an electric guitar (Meriwether County) and possibly my favorite -- one leg iron that went to Bibb County. A leg iron? Really?

And the most frightening of all? Twenty-one "No name provided" were distributed. Could be anything. Phasers, maybe.

Fulton County received the most items (1,599), no big surprise given how big it is. The next ones, though, are surprising -- Carroll County (1,277), Lee County (817), Walton County (665), and Meriwether County (664). See graphic below.

There's tons more I could have fun with, even invent cool graphics or perhaps a map, but that'd take too much time. If you're deeply interested, I can carve out the Georgia data into an Excel file and send it your way. Just Georgia alone is not all that big.


I'm adding local counties and what they received, which isn't all that much.
  • Clarke - 2 rifles
  • Jackson - 22 rifles, 8 pistols. Sheesh
  • Oconee - 2 rifles
  • Oglethorpe -- zilch, nada

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Curricular Snags

We've hit a snag, maybe more than one, in trying to revise and update the Grady College journalism curriculum.

A brief history: We've combined journalism and broadcast journalism and this past summer a Committee of the Sane met to try and come up with a fresh, innovative curriculum. Lots of other schools have combined the two but left more or less separate tracks. In other words, not much change. What we've got so far looks like this. We unveiled it last week to the full department faculty. The response? Underwhelming, and in a couple of cases, critical.

Before I get into the snags, a word of our approach. We wanted to frontload law and ethics as a framework for all the journalism classes that follow. We wanted lots of multimedia experience for all students. We wanted an experiential class, anchored by Newsource. And we wanted lots of skills classes.

And now, the snags. I'll focus on two of them today because, well, I've got other things to do:
  •  Law & Ethics: Most programs offer the traditional Law of Mass Comm class that, as in our case, is taken near the end of a student's coursework. Some programs offer one that, instead, combines ethics and law, the tension between what as a journalist you legally can do versus what you should do. Again, we saw this as the guiding framework for all classes to follow. As you might guess, the faculty who teach mass comm law are all for innovation -- except in the case of mass comm law. Their arguments are, in part, excellent case studies in tautology. There really isn't room in the curriculum for a required ethics and law class. How will it all fall out? Stay tuned. I feel fairly strongly we need an ethics/law class and, if it gets ugly, I'm more than willing to use the nuclear option. No, not gonna reveal what that is.
  • Skills Heavy: Our curriculum, as drawn, runs heavy on the skills classes and light on the "conceptual" classes (such as ethics, credibility, etc.). One senior faculty member told the room that we needed more classes with critical thinking. I asked him: "Are you saying skills classes don't include critical thinking?" He said that's not what he meant, despite it being what he said, but then again no one really listens to him anyway. The point, though, remains. With so many skills classes we're pushing the faculty to the edge to cover them and, if my math is right, we simply don't have the classroom lab space to teach them. That first semester writing class alone will eat up most of our labs for the week. It also doesn't help that for some faculty the list of classes they can't teach is far longer than the list of classes they can teach.
Oddly no one really mentioned the "teaching hospital" approach built (ever so lightly) into the curriculum. Newsource would become the anchor experience, for most students serving the online platform while for others serving the broadcast platform -- with of course a mix across both when the story deserves it. 

And we're bouncing around some interesting ways to handle some of the problems, such as online classes, such as flipped classrooms. After all, I'm paid too damn much to stand in a room watching students type. Stories should be written out of class and that time spent discussing their stuff, the problems that emerged, and what's next. Ya know ... critical thinking. (what a doofus)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Curriculum Quiet

I kinda expected fireworks as the full department got its first look today at a potential curriculum revision (see here for details of the "proposal").

No fireworks. Indeed, mostly I heard a consensus that the committee is on the right track.

About the only direct criticism came from the idea of combining law and ethics into a single class. The notion of front-loading ethics and law, that was fine, but combining the two into a single class was questioned by -- not coincidentally -- the two faculty who teach our mass comm law class. I don't want to spend a lot of time on this because, frankly, I'm not convinced it deserves a lot of time. The committee will no doubt weigh the comments and either shift back to the status quo approach (something it's tried hard to avoid) or insist on the ethics-law combo. I have no idea which way it may go. The arguments against the combo were not particularly compelling, but it may not be worth the fight.

Otherwise faculty poked and prodded but offered no deep analysis because, as a "working" document, there's not a lot to poke and prod. There was a certain level of bullshit, but nothing so deep as to wash over the top of your boots and wet your feet. All in all, a good meeting.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Building a Journalism Curriculum

On Monday, the newly combined faculty of UGA's Department of Journalism meets for the first time to see how far a committee has gotten in revising the curriculum. Keep in mind we've combined the digital and broadcast folks with the journalism folks, so this first stab at revising the curriculum is designed to fit both sets of students.

Showtime is Monday afternoon. Yes, the faculty have already received it, so I can freely blog about it.

This is merely a proposal, a "working document." The summer committee designed an initial try at combining our programs. Yes, we talked about core competencies and what peer institutions are up to, and yes we did all the homework you normally do before getting into the nitty gritty. Here's what the committee came up with the the core, what all students must take. The underlying assumption was all students need multimedia experience.

Semester 1
  • Combined law and ethics class. The idea here is to expose students right off the bat to the tension between what journalists legally can do and what they ethically should do. Many programs hold this off until the end. That's a mistake.
  • Reporting. A big lecture on all aspects of reporting, from interviewing to fact-finding to documents and the rest.
  • Writing. Small classes, 16 or 18 or so, focused on writing across platforms.
Semester 2
  • Skill building, in which students pick from a set of 1-hour or 2-hour specific classes on video, photo, graphics, and coding. Perhaps others.
Semester 3
  • Multiplatform story production. The guts of the curriculum, in many ways, with work possibly finding its way online at Newsource.
Semester 4
  • Capstone experience in Newsource, our newsroom. Two sections will specifically be tied to the television news show, four sections to special projects that appear either online or on the broadcast.
Beyond the CORE there are specialties. Right now, the list is:
  • Photojournalism
  • Management, innovation, and entrepreneurship
  • Investigative Reporting
  • Feature Writing (magazine students, for example, may go here)
So, what's different? Multimedia, for one. A somewhat bigger core for journalism, but roughly similar to what digital and broadcast journalism is used to. More skills classes. Less flexibility. Less nimble. A lot of time feeding the beast of core skills classes, leaving faculty fewer opportunities to experiment with new stuff. No drone class. No bourbon class.  An attempt to remove the names of media from classes and majors, that's happened. Good.

Okay, so what's the response likely to be on Monday? Well, anyone who feels "their" class isn't the most important, or is being watered down, they'll damn sure speak up. It's all about us, after all.

Do I like it?

Not so much, and I was on the committee that created the damn thing. I think it's a good first shot, and I'm sorta kinda with the whole teaching hospital approach of using Newsource as our anchor experience.  But I dislike big cores. I dislike cookie-cutter approaches to education. So really it comes down to some interesting philosophical differences. Do you want all students to have a lot of the same experiences, or do you want students to pick from a buffet of classes that fit their particular interests? Importantly -- which would you hire? A specialist? Or a generalist?

Tomorrow is gonna be fun.