Sunday, January 26, 2014
For many months one of the mathematics professors has been trying to find statistics on the numbers of community college students diagnosed as needing math remediation actually finished the recommended courses. He came to me for help. I searched the academic databases, Statistical Abstracts of the United States, and the U.S. Department of Education web site (http://www.ed.gov/) without finding any help for the professor.
This was a fuzzy search because we didn’t know the author, title, subject or even the best key words to search. I tried searching terms such as “community college developmental math” and got more than 10,000 hits. None of which were helpful. Limiting the search to academic journals gave 3 hits, but none were even close to what was needed. After many searches spread out over four days, I gave up; I had no more ideas. The professor turned to his colleagues and one gave him a list of three articles that I was able to find for the professor.
How does one find something when they are not sure of what they are looking for? Our information seeking training does not offer great guidance. There is an express, “you can’t nail jelly to a tree” used for problems that are impossible solve. What is interesting is source for this expression is Theodore Roosevelt, but many people think it is a myth.
May 23, 1912 Theodore Roosevelt had a long campaign day in Northern New Jersey. At about 10:30 pm he got up to the podium at Dickenson High School in Jersey City, New Jersey to give a 30 minute speech. He is a transcription of part of that speech.
When I became President I found the negotiations for the proceeding with great decorum as they had proceeded for years The Spaniards had discovered the Isthmus four and they had at once said that it would be very nice to have across it and there had been four centuries of conversation and I thought it was just as well that the conversation into action I did my level best to get Colombia to agreement. We were more than just we were more than generous Colombia. Finally I had lo make up my mind that to hold up Uncle Sam. I didn’t intend that Uncle Sam up and Colombia intended to blackmail a French company then have had France on the Isthmus. I was finally forced that to endeavor to negotiate with Colombia was about to nail currant jelly to the wall. You can t do it. It isn’t of the nail it's the fault of the jelly. 
I found this speech using several kinds of Google searches until I found a book that Google had digitized. The academic databases yielded no results.
The problem with Roosevelt was that he was using conventional logic when he coined the expression. Computer programmers and librarians know how to find solutions using unconventional searches and fuzzy logic. There are solutions to this problem. One could freeze the jelly, one could put the jelly in a container and nail the container to the tree, or one could hammer a big nail into the tree and spread the jelly it. Several people have said that “nailing jelly to a tree,” was one of Roosevelt’s favorite expressions, but I can’t verify this.
How does one do fuzzy searches? If you went to a store and didn’t know exactly what you needed, you could search the aisles in hopes that the product you need would be obvious. Many times I don’t know the name of what I want; I just know what it is supposed to do. One could go the grocery wanting food for dinner, but not know what to buy. This is a retailer’s dream because the merchandizing display, special deals, and layout are all there to convince the consumer to buy something they had no idea they needed before entering the store.
The world of information seeking is a bit harder; there are no stores merchandizing information. There are no special information “sales.” One could browse the library shelves in search of a book and hopefully find something appropriate, but this process may be a matter of serendipity or blind luck. One could read journals or other periodicals and hopefully remember enough to find the article the next time you needed something similar, but few people have that kind of memory. Unfortunately I have no great answers on how to find what you need with a fuzzy search. One consults with an expert and gets guidance toward the correct path. Librarians, subject specialists and colleagues are good sources for this type of guidance, but this kind of search depends on if you can find the expert and the time you need him or her.
From the cataloger perspective I have wondered how the catalog record can be made friendlier to fuzzy search logic. If the title is not very indicative of the subject and the subject headings are not what a searcher would guess, the search is hard. We sometimes add tables of contents that are searchable with keyword searching, but this has its limits because the authors and/or publishers create these chapter titles.
Sorry, I have no answers that will work all the time. Fuzzy logic and successful fuzzy searching depend on prior knowledge and wisdom that only comes with experience or access to those with the experience you seek.
 I looked in the print version of The Statistical Abstract of the United States first to get an idea of what was available then went to the U.S. Census Bureau web site that has the most current information. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/
 One of the articles is from Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. “Referral, Enrollment, and Completion in Developmental Sequences in Community Colleges” by Thomas Bailey, Dong Wook Jeong, Sung-Woo Cho was right on topic. The prepublication paper may be downloaded from: http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/presentation/referral-enrollment-completion-3.html The findings were presented on October 14, 2010.
The author supplied keywords are: Developmental education, Community college. Searching on these keywords would give too many hits to be useful for the kind of information the math professor wanted.
 This is quoted in the book: Theodore Roosevelt : one day of his life : reconstructed from contemporaneous accounts of his political campaign of 1912 … / by William H Richardson. Jersey City : Jersey City Printing Company, 1921 page 34.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Q: I would like to continue the discussion of the book: Man is not alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel. He talks about a kind of discontent and being in a state of endless yearning. People need to search for spiritual needs rather than achievements and find what a person is not what he has.  How does a college course teach this?
A course in history may cover the events of the past or how the pursuit of achievements. A course in sociology or psychology may investigate what makes a person human. These two streams of investigation may seem contradictory until one investigates the motives to achieve. If one was to cloister himself in a closed environment and only pray and learn all day, they will be spiritual, but never achieve anything worthwhile. If someone acts without cognizance of the others in society and awareness of something beyond the self and society, they will never be able to accomplish peace and real happiness.
Animals are satiated when they have their needs of food and shelter met. Because people are in always in a state of dissatisfaction, moral and scientific progress can be made. We teach the each new generation about the past and the principles of science so that they get a type of dissatisfaction and can have a fresh view of the world. Maturity is learning to balance the experience of our masters with the path toward the new and better ways of dealing with the world. Classes are designed to save students from the trial and error of investigating everything on their own. The teachers give the basis, background, and history and then guide the students to find their own answers. Liberal education does not have all the answers but hopefully guides students to the right path to seek the mature way of appreciating the world.
Q: How do we open the student potentialities? How do we teach student to value success?
A: According to Heschel, values are attained when we learn to anticipate, seek, and crave for them. Values, like goals are based on the understanding of the past and the nature of law and community. One can not have a goal without understanding the self and the role of the self within society. A package of cement does not strive to become a building, but the imaginations and plans of people can turn the cement as the glue to become the concrete used for a sidewalk or building. People learn to create, based knowledge of the world, how materials work, and a yearning for something better.
Our job as educators is to show the light of knowledge to our students. Hopefully the knowledge turns into wisdom.
Q: Thank you very much.
Part twenty-six of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.
Monday, January 6, 2014
New President Interview -- Part 25
Q: In October 2013 you talked about the role of experience in education. I just read the book, Man is not alone by Abraham Joshua Heschel. He talks about becoming human. That is rising above the animal needs and instincts and discovering the world around us. What is role of the College is helping students to become human? Or perhaps how the does the College help the student mature into an adult?
A: As I said before, knowledge comes from experience and education is the understanding of the Heschel writes, “The child becomes human, not by discovering the environment which includes things and other selves, but by becoming sensitive to interests of the other selves.” Mature human beings are concerned about others in society. Diversity in educational curriculum teaches about people who are not like us. They are different because of the belief, culture, gender, geography, temperament, and any other factor that could be part of their psychology. No communal or corporate effort can succeed without understanding and working with diverse people.results of experience.
The peace of solitude is not because the person is alone or ignoring civilization, but it is the time to recharge the brain and become better at coping with the stresses and opportunities civilization offers. A vital part of educations is teaching how to become part of multiple societies. While elementary school may teach the care of the self, basic values, and getting along with people, the College and its academic curriculum are guiding the students to fluency in a wider range of thought covering many times, places, and thoughts. From the humanities, sciences, technology, and arts, and to the clinical and experimental, we are teaching the students to care and regard others with respect. The price of civilization and society is that one gives up a part of the self for a greater reward. A mature person understands and respects the self, other people and the dimension of what is outside the individual. Over and above the individual is ethics (or religion), the law, the holy, and society.
Educators need to challenge students and themselves to venture outside of their comfort zones. Research is part of this quest to search outside of a previous comfort zone.
Q: Professor Aaron Pallas of Teachers College said, “The voices of parents, business leaders, and other taxpayers have not been heard in shaping a vision for what students should know and be able to do when they leave school.”  While Professor Pallas is talking about K-12 students, how do his thoughts apply to the College?
A: He is also concerned with an educational system that recognizes that schools are agents of society. Society wants members who know the ways of the past and present and are able to set a course for the future that is better than today. A person who thinks he is always right will never be a fully functional member of society any more than someone who can never get anything right. Making mistakes on the way to learning and mastering a task or such is part of education. Failure is the inability or unwillingness to learn from mistakes and take appropriate remedial action. The College needs to build on what the student learns in high school. Pallas says that new administrations have the opportunity to create a new social compact with the stakeholders because they can make a new beginning. In the two years I have been president, I have tried to work with student, faculty and the community to educate students who are ready for the workplace.
Q; I see commercials for mayors, governors, and others running for political office saying they the “education candidate.” What do you say about that attitude?
A: The movie 2010, Waiting for Superman, includes the story of Michelle Rhee, is brought in to the Washington, DC school system to change it. She has business background and was advocate for students and change. Geoffrey Canada was educated as educator. If they would have been able to start a system from scratch, they would have devised a truly great system, but they ran into the inertia of several hundred years of public education. They fought against an administrative system, a faculty and community that they never were able to find the lines for communication and cooperation. In a perfect world, they would have been right, but in the mixed up world where everyone is out to prove they are “right” Rhee and Canada were disillusioned. Rhee lasted only two school years in the chancellor’s job.
These politicians may have great ideas, but they will never succeed if they don’t find a way to get the stakeholders on the same page. They should not promise reform until they have consulted and found ways for all parties to cooperate. Better test scores are one goal; better citizens who are life-long learner is a better goal. A better political promise will tell us how they will work with the community, faculty, and students to figure out how to best prepare children for a mature role in society. To paraphrase Heschel, people become holy when they rise above self and the interests of others become a vital concern. Our job as educators is to help everyone find the inner holiness.
Q: Thank you very much.
Part twenty-five of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.
 Heschel, Abraham Joshua. Man is not alone : a philosophy of religion. New York : Harper & Row, 1966 ©1951.
 Ibid. pages 137-8.
 Pallas, Aaron. “Cost-Conscious Tips to Improve NYC Schools : A Professor Offers Advice to Incoming Chancellor” From web site: School Book. New York: New York Public Radio, © 2014. Retrieved from : http://www.wnyc.org/story/my-advice-new-schools-chancellor/ . Aaron Pallas is the Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
This continues the quest to poke fun at ambiguity. In every library orientation we warn students that Google is great tool, but it is not without its limitations. Google uses algorithms to match the search request. Google maps is no better. Last Friday on a trip to St. Louis we wanted to visit Forest Park. My daughter wanted to go to the ice skating rink. Since Forest Park streets are very curvy and require lots of signs to navigate, I turned to Google for directions.
Google told me to go east on Forest Park Expressway, exit Kingshighway and turn right on Hospital drive. The ice skating rink is indicated on the map by the little red oval at the end of Jefferson Drive.
Going south on Kingshighway the directions said to turn right on Hospital Drive. The only problem is that we could see the street sign marked “Hospital Drive.” (We were not using the GPS because we didn’t have one.) The sign in huge 18 inch letters said, Barnes-Jewish Hospital Plaza. When I knew we went to far we tried the first street that we could turn right. It took a long time to get in to Forest Park because we couldn’t just turn around. When we entered the park we followed the signs to the ice skating rink. Soon we saw signs indicating street parking for the rink, but we couldn’t see the rink. I saw a sign the indicated a parking lot, but did not say enter her for the skating rink. The sign indicated that there was a dead end. I thought entering would be a mistake. We found ourselves back on Kingshighway and entering the hospital grounds. I turned around and crossed Kingshighway and then saw the tiny “Hospital Drive” sign. We went down the dead end street and finally found the parking lot and at the end of the parking lot was the ice skating rink.
Google was absolutely right in the directions, but the directions combined with the confusing signage wasted more than 20 minutes of our time. Next time we’ll know the way.
I love to make fun of signs when they are not helpful. People who make signs should test them the verbiage on neophytes, people who have no prior knowledge on the place. On the highway on another day there was a sign that indicated the left lane was closed ahead. It was really the right lane that was limited. Another sign told me I need to exit on 38b, but neglected to tell us the exit was on the left. I was in the right lane. If traffic would not have been light, I would have missed my exit and ended up on the bridge to Illinois.
If you make a sign, make sure to test it of the signage patrol will poke fun at tit and people will not get the message.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Language by its very nature is limiting. It is a symbolic representation of thought. The job of a librarian is to organize the chaos of information. I like to make fun of imprecise language. I saw a sign for an event that said, “Limited seating.” The creator of the sign wants the readers to sign up right away. He wants to fill the venue. What does “limited” mean? It could mean the size of the seats is limited.
I checked and found the width of economy airline seats are between 17” and18”. Train seats are about 20” and the desk chair I am sitting in while writing this blog is 24” Every chair is limited, but how does this limitation work? A person with a 32” waist has about a 12 inch diameter, leaving about 5” of wiggle room. I doubt the sign creator wants the readers to even care about size of the seats. The limitation must be the number of seats in the venue. Since every venue has a finite number of seats and space, they are limited. So—what does “limited” mean in this context? If the venue is a sports stadium there could be 50, 60, or 70 thousand seats. If you wanted to go to a big game, the venue could be sold out. If you wanted season tickets, there could be none available. Is 70,000 a limited seating place? “Yes!” I doubt the event in the above sign has 70,000 seats available in the venue. I doubt 1000 seats are available.
What if a theatrical play had a limited run of two weeks? The limitation could be based on contractual agreements to be in several cities. The run in one city could not be extended because the production needs to move to the next place. If the play had an open run has seating unlimited by a planned end date. The open run will continue as long as they can make money and fill the theater. But it still would be limited by the laws of time and space. They could not schedule more performances in a day than can be fit into 24 hours. The play could be sold out one night and have plenty of empty seats the next. Everything has limits. Perhaps the sign creator could have conveyed the message more precisely by stating, “seating limited to the first 125 reservations?” That would tell the reader to make a reservation quickly to avoid disappointment and tell them they could not bring 126 friends.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Two weeks ago I had to replace my microwave oven. The old one served me well and the outside still looked new. The electronics, which had been warning me for two months, finally gave out. It is hard to say good bye to my machines. If you read my columns in March 2013 and December 2010 I said good bye to my blender and mixer. In November I had to replace my garage door opener and last week I replaced a kitchen light fixture.
|Microwave from 1999|
It is not so much that I hate new things; it is just difficult to decide what to buy and find what I want. The budget for the microwave oven gave me lots of choices. I wanted a big one so that I could use it for multiple dishes at the same time or a big casserole dish. The new one has a 2.0 cubic foot interior. I wanted one that had a good rating. After checking online I found a store with an oven with all of the requirements. We went over to the store to see that machine in action and wanted to buy it. Alas! None were in stock. The store had a free shipping option and we accepted the free delivery. The electronic features and options are much more advanced than the previous oven. It fits right on the counter top in the place of the old microwave.
|Old light fixture|
For a long time I wanted to replace the light fixture in my kitchen. The halogen fixture used 300 watts and was very hot. I didn’t really like the quality of the light. But inertia kept me from spending the time to find a new fixture and spending the money. When the light bulb burnt out last month, I tried to replace it. The new ones refused to work. I cleaned to contact, but that didn’t help. I investigated and found that the lamp socket wear out because of the high heat. I thought that I would replace the socket, but the local home improvement stores did have the parts. The electrician said that to fix the fixture would cost about 1.5 hours of his time, but a new one could be installed in 30 minutes. After I decided to purchase a new one, the process for finding a satisfactory fixture began.
I didn’t want another halogen because I wanted one that more economical. That also precluded incandescent. That left florescent or LED. My friends and so said not to get florescent. I didn’t see a big problem, but I listened. The LED bulbs offer several choices of white light colors, burn very cool, and use very little electricity per lumen. The initial cost is very high, but the manufactures claim they will last more than 22 years. My requirements were: budget of $100, look appropriate for a kitchen, have the ability to deliver at least 2200 lumens of lights, and have options for bulbs. The local home improvement stores had plenty of fixtures within the budget, but none of the other requirements. Many of the fixtures used specialized bayonet based bulbs which are not interchangeable with other fixtures. Many looked in appropriate for my kitchen. I finally checked online and found a store a short 15 minute drive away that specializes in light fixtures.
I planned a visit to the light store with my daughter on “Black Friday.” The store was empty. Evidently light fixtures are not high on the list for bargain hunters. The store has lots of fixtures that fit the requirements. In fact they had so many at about the same price point; the decision was based only on what looked the best for the kitchen. The search went from frustration at finding nothing to finding so many the choices were hard. The new fixture has standard screw in lamp sockets and I can choose the bulbs. I bought daylight LED bulbs at $35 each. I should only live and be well to have the privilege of replacing them after the full 22 years life span. At my age I can not even say I’ll be in my house another 22 years.
I had to call an electrician to install the fixture because I can no longer do those kinds of repairs myself. It took more than 10 days to arrange for an appointment, but the kitchen is full of light and we can see what we are cooking and baking.
With my camera equipment so far it is not possible to get a good picture of the new fixture or microwave.
The final question is what to do with the replaced goods. One old microwave oven was taken when the new one was delivered. Another old one will be sent for recycling with city’s trash removal. The old light fixture with a replacement socket is being offered for sale.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Q: Very often I read about dysfunctional organizations with employees more concerned about not getting fired more than their concern to do a good job. Then I read about companies that use what they know about their customers for extraordinary customer service. While the College is not a company, how does the College work toward excellence? [fn 1]
A: Since the College is a learning organization, we not only have to teach excellence, but also set a good example. We want excellence in instruction, excellence in learning, and excellence in the way we administer the organization.
The next part of “excellence” is to figure out how to make a product that can have a promised performance that can actually be done. In poorly run companies there is disconnect between sales, technology, and product creation. For example I once worked for a state agency that had field service agents. The agents would promise software to the clients, but neglect to tell anyone to create the software. Then they wondered why they didn’t have the discs to give out to clients. No matter how small the software package, it still needs to be created before distribution. Before promising, make sure the foundation is solid.
Q: Does the College have products that are sold?
It does not have products in boxes like a retail store, but there are many products. For example if there is an event there are many pieces that go into the planning, marketing, arranging the event, and creating backup or contingency plans. The pieces have to fit for successful event. For example if someone needs to have a meeting with computer, projector, and Internet access, someone needs to make sure the room and equipment are requested and the hardware works properly. The readied room is the product. If one is preparing flyers for an event, the flyers become the product. All the pieces needed for an event make the finished product which is the event. All the pieces working together are the third part of excellence.
The College also has infrastructure that is the support department that enable the instruction. Their services are part of the product mix. Any time someone requests support services such as information technology (IT), photo reproduction, maintenance, repair, etc. the requestor is the customer and the provider is the vendor.
Q: In Richard Feynman’s book, “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!” [fn 3] He relates many crazy incidents that concern education and administration. He was on a commission to help the California Board of Education choose math text books. He read every single one and rated them. When they went to meetings he actually told the committee the reasons behind the ratings. Other committee members gave ratings to books they had not completely read. Some books were not give to Feynman. When he asked why, the book distributor said that the book wasn’t finished. All he had was a cover and a blank inside. Feynman asked how one could rate a blank book?
How does this fit into a culture of excellence?
A: The California legislature was probably thinking they knew what is best for their citizens. They even had teachers sit on the textbook selection committees, but they didn’t count on someone as intellectual and ethical as Feynman. He would not accept anything from a textbook publisher. They offered meals and presents and he turned them down. They offered supplemental materials and he said that the books need to stand on their own merits. He even got two rival companies to compete and California paid a lower price because of competition.
Feynman was giving us just a taste of excellence, but some of his behaviors would have gotten him into hot water at the College and in academic circles. As part of his committee work he had to travel. By law he was supposed to get reimbursed for expenses. He turned in expense report and was asked for a receipt for parking. He claimed not to have one. He said that if you trust him enough to evaluate text books, then trust him that parking only costs $2.75.
We have reimbursement rules at the College that seem just as silly. I can’t understand why we waste precious time that costs more than the reimbursement. Even as president I can’t seem to change this. If we had a culture of excellence we would trust our people. If I trust someone to teach our students and use thousands of dollars worth of equipment, I should be able to trust them that transportation cost $5.00. Trust is the next part of excellence.
Trust goes both ways. The administration has to trust the faculty and staff and they have to trust that their requests will be filled. In Thomas Peters’ In Search of Excellence[fn 4] the author talks about many incidences of extraordinary employees. Those of employees who went above and beyond the basics needed to complete the jobs. These employees sometimes bent the rules and over came obstacles to fill the customer needs. They got rewarded for their efforts and the company got rewarded with customer loyalty and positive evaluations that translated into more business. This kind of behavior works in a business but in the public sector or academia. We don’t seem to be able to make this part of the culture.
To create a culture of excellence we need an institution where everyone is part of something within the institution (for example teams, committees, departments) and has an opportunity to be a star or make a type of unique contribution. When someone sticks out in a winning situation, those around him/her share in the honor or accomplishments. That is why we have recognition notices, certificates, and public praise. The next piece of the excellence puzzle is when there is a balance between membership in a group and personal achievement.
“Excellence” is not perfection. Just because something is excellent, does not mean we have stop creating and searching for something better. A circle has a type of perfect because there is no beginning or end. An organization has a beginning, goals, and steps to achieve so that there is no end in sight.
Q: To sum it all up what is “excellence” and what is a culture of “excellence.”
A: First it is easy to find examples of sloppy and poor performance. In the “3 Stooges and a Bozo” article above, the actors in the story did not know their own jobs. They did not have the technical skills to avoid mistakes or the social skills to have productive meetings. They didn’t know how to start, design, test or finish a project. In the creating reports from organizational data bases, the data stored must be correct or the report won’t work. For example a librarian trying to get a report out of the library management system needs excellent bibliographic data to get excellent management reports. While teachers can define and award “excellent” grades, in the organization “excellence” is hard to define.
Let me just rephrase the points I made concerning excellence –
1. Create a product or service that not only works, but it fills a customer need. Create the infrastructure to deliver and support the products.
2. Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver. If you can’t do something, decline. But don’t be afraid to try new endeavors to stretch the limits. The difference is work as hard as you can to accomplish the goal, but don’t promise results that would violate the laws of physics. If the request is not possible try to find an alternative that will accomplish the goal or an alternative goal.
3. Trust your people. If you can’t trust someone, don’t hire them. If you can’t trust them today, figure how to trust them in the future.
4. Have the technical, intellectual, administrative, fiscal and other skills to succeed.
5. Create rules that enable excellence. That means have rules that people work in concert with rather figuring out how to comply or bypass.
6. Recognize, reward, and celebrate group and individual success.
7. Talk, market, encourage excellence in the classroom, administration, and support areas.
Q: Thank you very much.
 This is part 24 in a series of interviews with the president of the College. This is an unnamed president of an imaginary college. Any connection to a real college is strictly coincidental.
 Feynman, Richard R. “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman!” : adventures of a curious character. New York, Bantam Books, 1989.
 Peters, Thomas J and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. In search of excellence : lessons from America’s best-run companies. New York : Warner Books, 1984.