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Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar

(Last edited: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 4:26 PM)
Rewriting History

Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar

04seelye.jpg
Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures -- Getty Images

FALSE WITNESS How true are "facts" online?

Published: December 4, 2005, NYT
 

ACCORDING to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, John Seigenthaler Sr. is 78 years old and the former editor of The Tennessean in Nashville. But is that information, or anything else in Mr. Seigenthaler's biography, true?

The question arises because Mr. Seigenthaler recently read about himself on Wikipedia and was shocked to learn that he "was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby."

"Nothing was ever proven," the biography added.

Mr. Seigenthaler discovered that the false information had been on the site for several months and that an unknown number of people had read it, and possibly posted it on or linked it to other sites.

If any assassination was going on, Mr. Seigenthaler (who is 78 and did edit The Tennessean) wrote last week in an op-ed article in USA Today, it was of his character.

The case triggered extensive debate on the Internet over the value and reliability of Wikipedia, and more broadly, over the nature of online information.

Wikipedia is a kind of collective brain, a repository of knowledge, maintained on servers in various countries and built by anyone in the world with a computer and an Internet connection who wants to share knowledge about a subject. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have written Wikipedia entries.

Mistakes are expected to be caught and corrected by later contributors and users.

The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.

It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.

Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?

And beyond reliability, there is the question of accountability. Mr. Seigenthaler, after discovering that he had been defamed, found that his "biographer" was anonymous. He learned that the writer was a customer of BellSouth Internet, but that federal privacy laws shield the identity of Internet customers, even if they disseminate defamatory material. And the laws protect online corporations from libel suits.

He could have filed a lawsuit against BellSouth, he wrote, but only a subpoena would compel BellSouth to reveal the name.

In the end, Mr. Seigenthaler decided against going to court, instead alerting the public, through his article, "that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool."

Mr. Wales said in an interview that he was troubled by the Seigenthaler episode, and noted that Wikipedia was essentially in the same boat. "We have constant problems where we have people who are trying to repeatedly abuse our sites," he said.

Still, he said, he was trying to make Wikipedia less vulnerable to tampering. He said he was starting a review mechanism by which readers and experts could rate the value of various articles. The reviews, which he said he expected to start in January, would show the site's strengths and weaknesses and perhaps reveal patterns to help them address the problems.

In addition, he said, Wikipedia may start blocking unregistered users from creating new pages, though they would still be able to edit them.

The real problem, he said, was the volume of new material coming in; it is so overwhelming that screeners cannot keep up with it.

All of this struck close to home for librarians and researchers. On an electronic mailing list for them, J. Stephen Bolhafner, a news researcher at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote, "The best defense of the Wikipedia, frankly, is to point out how much bad information is available from supposedly reliable sources."


(Page 2 of 2)

Jessica Baumgart, a news researcher at Harvard University, wrote that there were librarians voluntarily working behind the scenes to check information on Wikipedia. "But, honestly," she added, "in some ways, we're just as fallible as everyone else in some areas because our own knowledge is limited and we can't possibly fact-check everything."

In an interview, she said that her rule of thumb was to double-check everything and to consider Wikipedia as only one source.

"Instead of figuring out how to 'fix' Wikipedia - something that cannot be done to our satisfaction," wrote Derek Willis, a research database manager at The Washington Post, who was speaking for himself and not The Post, "we should focus our energies on educating the Wikipedia users among our colleagues."

Some cyberexperts said Wikipedia already had a good system of checks and balances. Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford and an expert in the laws of cyberspace, said that contrary to popular belief, true defamation was easily pursued through the courts because almost everything on the Internet was traceable and subpoenas were not that hard to obtain. (For real anonymity, he advised, use a pay phone.)

"People will be defamed," he said. "But that's the way free speech is. Think about the gossip world. It spreads. There's no way to correct it, period. Wikipedia is not immune from that kind of maliciousness, but it is, relative to other features of life, more easily corrected."

Indeed, Esther Dyson, editor of Release 1.0 and a longtime Internet analyst, said Wikipedia may, in that sense, be better than real life.

"The Internet has done a lot more for truth by making things easier to discuss," she said. "Transparency and sunlight are better than a single point of view that can't be questioned."

For Mr. Seigenthaler, whose biography on Wikipedia has since been corrected, the lesson is simple: "We live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research, but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects."

Software 'cannot stop cheating'

(Last edited: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 9:39 AM)
Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 17:12 GMT o.gif
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http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4460702.stm

Software 'cannot stop cheating'
Keyboard
The exam watchdog has warned of plagiarism using the internet
Technological solutions alone will not be enough to prevent children using the internet to cheat in their coursework, a government adviser has said.

Professor Jean Underwood of Nottingham Trent University says it is up to teachers and parents to show that plagiarism is inappropriate.

The government has asked Professor Underwood to provide technical advice on how to detect internet cheating.

It has commissioned a review of GCSE coursework in each subject.

The move comes after report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said downloading essays from the internet "could not be controlled".

Internet search

Professor Underwood, an expert in the impact of new technologies on teaching and learning, said less repetitive and more creative questioning would reduce the scope for cheating.

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COURSEWORK CHEATING
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start_quote_rb.gif The availability of the internet is a powerful aid to learning but carries a new generation of risks of plagiarism. end_quote_rb.gif
QCA report on coursework
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She said the parameters of her study were still to be defined, but she wanted to help find solutions "so that everyone is reassured that coursework is valid, relevant and secure".

Rules should be made clearer, Professor Underwood said.

"We all reject websites which sell essays, but where does that leave us when there are so many help books to get pupils through their GCSEs? Where is the line?"

And parents need to understand that by doing work for their children, or telling them what to include, they are not allowing them to learn effective research - an important skill for later life.

"If a parent helps their child to carry out an efficient internet search, I personally do not see anything wrong in that," she said.

"But downloading five papers from the internet would be a borderline crossed."

She said the government has recognised there is concern and will put down guidelines around February next year.

But it was "all our jobs to collectively show that cheating should not happen".

Teachers have voiced concerns that there are inconsistent guidelines across exam boards regarding how much guidance teachers should give to pupils.

They are also concerned that providing templates and checklists for work leads to "cloned essays" which are difficult to tell apart.

"Templates are worrying, if they lead to the pupil not understanding the material," Professor Underwood said.

The NASUWT teachers' union said it was important to keep the issue of plagiarism in proportion.

But it welcomed the idea of clearer guidelines, but said policing every line of work for plagiarism would "place an impossible burden upon teachers".

Coursework is marked internally within schools, while exam boards call in samples of the work for external checks, known as "moderation".

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start_quote_rb.gif The internet is a wonderful thing with the power to change lives - but there will always be a downside end_quote_rb.gif
Professor Jean Underwood

At GCSE level, it varies from 20% of the overall qualification in double science, to 60% in art and design.

At A-level it can be from nothing to 30%, or 60% in the case of art and design.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said coursework should only be used where it is the most appropriate assessment method.

The QCA's report found coursework was a valuable tool to stimulate pupils' own learning, but that the value placed on it by teachers varied between subjects.

Technical solutions

Professor Underwood said technology could help ameliorate the problem but was "no quick fix".

She said software already existed to help schools ascertain whether work was the pupil's own.

"It can even be as simple as typing a phrase into Google."

"If a phrase has been plagiarised, sites will bring it up."

"Software is already out there that schools can use, from the Joint Information Systems Committee."

Exam board Edexcel and the Joint Council for Qualifications said they were working with the Plagiarism Advisory Service with a view to rolling out plagiarism detection software.

A JCQ spokesperson said it would reduce the potential to use or re-use work produced by other people.

Professor Underwood said some software could check as well as mark work. But she said some clever students would find ways round such programmes.

"One method used is to translate phrases in papers into a different language and then back into English with a translation tool," she said.

She said that tackling firms providing essays for sale or download would not guarantee children could not access essays, as hackers could still make them available for sale.

"We need to think smart on an academic and technological level," she said

"The internet is a wonderful thing with the power to change lives - but there will always be a downside."

Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S.

(Last edited: Sunday, 27 November 2005, 10:38 PM)

Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S.

Published: NYT, November 26, 2005
 

After Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math this year, state officials at a jubilant news conference called the results a "cause for celebration." Eighty-seven percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level.

But when the federal government made public the findings of its own tests last month, the results were startlingly different: only 21 percent of Tennessee's eighth graders were considered proficient in math.

Such discrepancies have intensified the national debate over testing and accountability, with some educators saying that numerous states have created easy exams to avoid the sanctions that President Bush's centerpiece education law, No Child Left Behind, imposes on consistently low-scoring schools.

A comparison of state test results against the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test mandated by the No Child Left Behind law, shows that wide discrepancies between the state and federal findings were commonplace.

In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on state reading tests, while only 18 percent of fourth graders demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Alaska, Texas and more than a dozen other states all showed students doing far better on their own reading and math tests than on the federal one.

The chasm is significant because of the compromises behind the No Child Left Behind law. The law requires states to participate in the National Assessment - known to educators as NAEP (pronounced nape) - the most important federal measure of student proficiency.

But in a bow to states' rights, states are allowed to use their own tests in meeting the law's central mandate - that schools increase the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency each year. The law requires 100 percent of the nation's students to reach proficiency - as each state defines it - by 2014.

States set the stringency of their own tests as well as the number of questions students must answer correctly to be labeled proficient. And because states that fail to raise scores over time face serious sanctions, there is little incentive to make the exams difficult, some educators say.

"Under No Child Left Behind, the states get to set the proficiency bar wherever they like, and unfortunately most are setting it quite low," said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which generally supports the federal law.

"They're telling the public in their states that huge numbers of students are proficient, but the NAEP results show that's not the case," Mr. Petrilli said.

Other educators and experts give different reasons for the discrepancy between state and federal test results. A Standard & Poor's report this fall listed many reasons for such differences, among them that the National Assessment is a no-stakes test, while low scores on state tests lead to sanctions against schools.

The report noted that the National Assessment is given to a sampling of students, whereas schools administer state tests to nearly all students. The tests serve different purposes, with the federal one giving policy makers a snapshot of student performance across the nation, while state tests provide data about individual performance. Because of these differences, some state officials say it is unfair to compare the test results.

But the report by Standard & Poor's, which has a division that analyzes educational data, also noted some states' tests are just easier.

G. Gage Kingsbury, director of research at the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group that administers tests in 1,500 districts nationwide, said states that set their proficiency standards before No Child Left Behind became law had tended to set them high.

"The idea back then was that we needed to be competitive with nations like Hong Kong and Singapore," he said. "But our research shows that since N.C.L.B. took effect, states have set lower standards."

Not all have a low bar. In South Carolina, Missouri, Wyoming and Maine, state results tracked closely with the federal exam.

South Carolina is a state that set world-class standards, Mr. Kingsbury said. The math tests there are so difficult that only 23 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficiency level this year, compared with 30 percent on the federal math test. South Carolina officials now fear that such rigor is coming back to haunt them.

"We set very high standards for our tests, and unfortunately it's put us at a great disadvantage," said Inez M. Tenenbaum, the state superintendent of education. "We thought other states would be high-minded too, but we were mistaken."

South Carolina's tough exams make it harder for schools there to show the annual testing gains demanded by the federal law.

This year less than half of the state's 1,109 schools met the federal law's benchmark for the percentage of students showing proficiency, a challenge that will get tougher each year. As a result, legislators are pushing to lower the state's proficiency standard, Ms. Tenenbaum said, an idea she opposes.

Because of the discrepancies, several prominent educators are now calling for a system of national testing that counts, like those at the heart of educational systems in England, France and Japan.

"We need national standards and national tests," said Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University who is a former member of the National Assessment's board. "I conclude that states are just looking to make everybody feel good."

Ms. Tenenbaum too says the differences among states have convinced her of the need for a national test. "I think we should all just take the NAEP," she said. "Get it out of the states' hands."

But Representative John A. Boehner, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Work Force, defended states' rights to define proficiency as they see fit and said that over time comparisons with the federal test would force them to draw up better tests.

"The bright lights of accountability are going to shine on the states who are kidding themselves," said Mr. Boehner, Republican of Ohio.

The battle lines have long been sharp in the testing debate. Most corporate leaders favor national testing, said Susan Traiman, a director at the Business Roundtable, a group that represents corporate executives.

Opponents include liberal groups that dislike all standardized testing; the testing industry itself, which has found lucrative profits in writing new exams for all 50 states; and political conservatives who fiercely resist any intrusion on states' rights to control curricula and tests.

Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, says that the comparison of state and federal tests provides useful information. "It allows us to shine a light," she said. "This is a truth-in-advertising type deal."

But Ms. Spellings has declined to criticize states whose tests appear to overstate the percentage of their students who are proficient. The law leaves it to states to calibrate their accountability systems, including how difficult they make their exams, she said. "We're not going to sit up in Washington and look at all those moving parts," Ms. Spellings said.

The National Assessment uses three performance levels to classify student results: advanced, which denotes superior performance; proficient, which indicates that students have "demonstrated competency" and basic, which indicates students have attained only "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills." Many students also score below basic, which the National Assessment's governing board does not classify as an achievement level.

On Oct. 19, the day the federal results were released, Ms. Spellings urged reporters to compare the percentage of students performing at the proficiency level on state tests with the percentage of students performing at the basic level on the federal test.

Many state officials said they also preferred that comparison, which greatly softens the discrepancies. In Tennessee, for instance, the 66-point gap between the federal and state results in eighth-grade math shrinks to just 26 points if the state results are compared with the federal measure of basic skills.

"NAEP's basic is comparable to our proficient," said Kim Karesh, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education. "Now whether Tennessee's test is stringent enough is something that we're reviewing constantly. Nobody here would say we have a perfect test."

Officials in many other states whose scores differed sharply from those of the National Assessment cried foul over the very idea of comparing the results.

"The comparison to NAEP is not fair," said Mitch Edwards, a spokesman for the Department of Education in Alabama, where 83 percent of fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient on the state's reading test while only 22 percent demonstrated proficiency on the federal reading test. "Making comparisons to the NAEP becomes very difficult without giving the impression that some states are not measuring up to others or to the nation."

In Georgia, 83 percent of eighth graders scored at or above proficient on state reading tests, compared with just 24 percent on the federal test. "Kids know the federal test doesn't really count," said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. "So it's not a fair comparison; it's not apples to apples."

T

Tecnologia como cultura

(Last edited: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 10:29 PM)
Tecnologia como cultura
Público, 29 de Novembro de 2005
FERNANDO ILHARCO

O baixo individualismo e a alta aversão ao risco são dos
principais problemas da cultura portuguesa. Assim se
percebe que apesar de na União Europeia, em termos
percentuais, sermos um dos países com menos licenciados,
que um quinto deles vá trabalhar para o estrangeiro

entendimento da tecnologia como
cultura, ou seja, a prática quotidiana
possibilitada e contextualizada
pela tecnologia como um determinado
tipo de cultura contemporânea, que é o
que no mais essencial é assumido no plano
tecnológico, constitui um alinhar de esforços,
de práticas e de ambições com o perfume dos
tempos correntes. Claro que os planos são uma
coisa, acontecem no domínio da reflexão, e as
medidas enumeradas são uma outra coisa, que
acontecem ou não num outro domínio, o da
acção concreta que corta o tempo, separando
o passado do futuro. Em boa medida, o que se
passa entre um e outro domínio, também no
caso do plano tecnológico, depende de uma
forma importante da nossa cultura enquanto
comunidade. Não do grau em que a tecnologia
seja já parte da nossa cultura, mas da nossa
cultura nacional, pré-tecnologia, como ela
mesma nos nossos símbolos, valores, práticas,
rotinas e padrões comportamentais,
se tem manifestado e se manifesta hoje,
mantendo-nos para nós mesmos como nós
próprios somos.

A tecnologia tem vindo a ser estudada e
investigada de variadíssimas formas. Desde
uma prática sistemática, um tipo de arte, ou
a aplicação prática da ciência, à ordenação
eficiente dos recursos, à com-posição monumental
que revela o mundo, muitas têm sido
as perspectivas de entendimento de um dos
fenómenos mais marcantes da história da
humanidade. Mesmo que uma boa parte das
interpretações deste quadro escape à visão instrumental,
algo ingénua, do fenómeno, em todas
elas a tecnologia nos surge com algum grau
de manipulabilidade; como uma possibilidade
de manipulação superior à da cultura. Pelo
menos nas suas camadas superficiais, talvez
a tecnologia possa ser
entendida como a área
mais trabalhável e por
isso mais alterável da
própria cultura. A
cultura, por seu lado,
percebida não apenas
como os valores, as
rotinas, as práticas,
etc., que temos, mas
antes como aquilo
que genuinamente
somos, é então não
apenas uma espécie
de lente para ver e ler
o mundo mas antes é
os nossos verdadeiros
olhos, mente e sistema
nervoso. Assim, hoje,
entender a tecnologia
como cultura é uma
parte importante
do processo de nos
integrarmos na reordenação
do poder
mundial.
Não deixando
de constituir uma
perspectiva correcta,
porque consequente
e útil no ambiente
contemporâneo, o
entendimento da tecnologia
como cultura
pressupõe de alguma
maneira, mais, sugere
como futuro, o
entendimento da cultura
como tecnologia.
Partir da tecnologia
como cultura levarnos-
á sempre à cultura
como tecnologia. Por
isso, um dos grandes
desafios, não apenas
nosso, é o de pensar
e possibilitar um quadro
global em que cada
cultura, da Europa à
África, da América à
Ásia, do Norte ao Sul
e do Leste ao Oeste, tenha possibilidades equitativas
de bem-estar, de paz e de futuro.
Cultura nenhuma é estática, é certo. A
cultura pode mesmo ser entendida como
a dinâmicas como os diferentes grupos e
comunidades se transformam e sobrevivem
no tempo. No entanto, o quadro global actual,
sobretudo porque global, impõe um grau de
homogeneização que, longe de ser claro, está
também longe de ser aceite por aqueles a quem
ele toca. O problema é o de que a nova ordem
global, dos mercados aos produtos culturais
passando pela saúde, pela indústria e alimentação,
foi desenhada ou simplesmente surgiu,
beneficiando objectivamente determinadas
comunidades nacionais e sociais. As culturas
nacionais mais beneficiadas na nova ordem
globalizada são aquelas onde são fortes os
traços do individualismo e a disponibilidade
para arriscar, bem como onde é menor o peso
da hierarquia e o peso das divisões sociais e
profissionais; todos aspectos onde a cultura
portuguesa não é particularmente forte. Aliás
o individualismo, no sentido de assentar no
indivíduo, singular, a perspectiva primária
da actividade da sociedade, mais do que a
educação formal dos portugueses é o nosso
verdadeiro problema. Temos uma população
com uma das menores taxas de formação
secundária e universitária entre os países
da União Europeia, mas cerca de um quinto
dos nossos licenciados vai procurar trabalho
no estrangeiro O que aqui não bate é certo
é não existirem, porque não são criadas nem
pelos privados nem pelo Estado, oportunidades
suficientes para os comparativamente
poucos profissionais qualificados que todos
os anos chegam ao mercado de trabalho. É um
problema de iniciativa, de individualismo, de
resultados e de recompensa, por um lado; pelo
outro lado, é obviamente a velha questão das
corporações, dos mercados fechados, do poder
da mediocridade, das invejas, dos tráficos de
influências.
A não exposição generalizada do país à
concorrência internacional permite que em
muitas hierarquias continuem a subir não
os mais competentes mas os que melhor manobram
nos corredores das influências e dos
enganos. É por isso que, a prazo, uma das mais
importantes medidas do plano tecnológico é a
generalização do ensino do inglês no primeiro
ciclo do ensino básico. Por muitas e variadas
razões, o inglês é hoje a língua da comunidade
global; a prazo, o domínio do inglês poderá
fazer mais pela iniciativa individual e pela
capacidade de arriscar do que todos os cursos
nacionais de empreendedorismo juntos. E
dessa forma, quando a concorrência passar a
ser intensa, deixa de ser opção não contratar
os melhores.
Cada sociedade é definida pela linguagem
que a estrutura e desenvolve. A comunidade
global assenta no inglês; num novo inglês,
num novo latim. Não quer isto dizer, obviamente,
que se deva tomar essa plataforma
linguística como única. Esta questão vai mais
longe quando colocada no domínio da cultura.
A cultura é-nos dada, transmitida no tempo
e espaço, pelos nossos antepassados e não a
podemos mudar de um dia para o outro, nem
de forma substancial numa geração. Se hoje
os países anglo-saxónicos, com uma língua
sem tu nem você, são beneficiados pelo
quadro global marcado pelas redes, pela pouca
relevância da hierarquia, pelo individualismo,
noutros tempos outros tipos de culturas
foram as beneficiadas. No entanto, numa
época obcecada pelo correcto, correcto parece
dever ser que, tal como não é aceitável que o
género, a raça ou a religião constituam bases
de discriminação, também nenhuma cultura,
menos individualista ou menos avessa à incerteza,
possa ser prejudicada pelo simples facto
de ser o que é. Trata-se de algo imensamente
difícil de resolver, evidentemente. Trata-se de
reflectir e em ultima análise de influenciar o
processo da constituição ontológica da sociedade
global. ■ Professor Universitário
www.ilharco.com



The computer and I

(Last edited: Friday, 23 December 2005, 10:32 AM)

The computer and I

http://www.helpusgettobett.com/?p=25#more-25

Archived Entry

  • Post Date :
  • Friday, Sep 9th, 2005 at 12:26 am
  • Category :
  • Using Moodle


Hi,
Im Jim Robertson, from Provo, Utah, USA. Not exactly in the UK, sorry about that. Allow me to introduce myelf in this blog. Then I will make some comments about Moodle in another.

General Introduction: grew up in California (LA then bay area), oldest of 6 children. Family moved to Phoenix, Arizona (parents still there), went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah still here. Married, wife Judy from very small town (300) in Nevada. Have 9 children, 7 married, youngest started college this week. No empty nest proxmity to BYU (10 minutes) and large extended family guarantees someone always living in basement while attending BYU (right now is niece & husband & 3 children). Enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, cooking, reading (especially aloud to anyone wholl listen), discussing ideas, listening to music (but more on that elsewhere). I dont really like gardening, but I live on 1 acre and I like grape juice, peaches, apples, apricots, various berries and other fresh produce, so I maintain a large garden. Used to be one of 3 properties between 2 large orchards, had chickens, neighbors had sheep & goats (even pigs once). All but us & one neighbor sold & developed during last 2 years into posh neighborhood, wonder what they think about the two remaining eye sores in the middle. We sometimes feel a little like the couple in the old Good Neighbors sitcom.

CAI-relevant Introduction: First introduced to personal computing in 1961 when G.E. tried experiment with remote terminals in 100 local employees homes, used Basic and 8-bit punch tape. Didnt think it took at the time, but have never been far from it since. While a grad student at BYU (c. 1980) I became involved in volunteer work at our gradeschool, teaching computer skills to children in an early-moring program. We used PET computers (5K!) and BASIC, which proved to be a great tool for building problem solving skills and encouraging creativity. It didnt really strike me then that teaching 3rd-6th graders how to make the computer do something by programming it was rather innovative, but some of them have since told me it was something of a turning point.

I had also met some professors involved in early CAI projects and instructional design. Some of them helped start Wicat, a company for developing computer-assisted teaching. Wicat produced what was probably the first comprehensive K-12 computer-based curriculum, delivered from a mini mainframe to 30 workstations. I started working for Wicat and soon found that while I had been hired to develop a set of ability tests (Ph.D. in experimental psychology), I had a knack for programming and was increasingly involved in software design and coding. A reorganization sent me from the Education Division to the relatively small Training Division, where I did front-end analysis and design on CBT for aircraft pilot training. Not exactly the revolution in education, but still a great place for involvement with computer aided instruction. I became interested in making training program development more consistent and automating it as much as possible, so I again found myself increasingly doing programming tasks.

A common limitation in CBT was that practice segments were pretty much lock-step, whereas most tasks being trained could be accomplished through many differenct sequences. In the early 90s we began developing avionics simulations for the new glass cockpit airframes that were coming into service. These were delivered on desktop PCs and were intended to become part of an expert system training program (guided practice). Unfortunately, we could sell simulations better than educational concepts, and by 2000 we had been purchased by Faros (a French company) and had moved entirely to the simulation business, producing full-cockpit Flight Training Devices.

Airplanes are fun, no getting around it. But my interest in simulation had been as part of training software, not as a separate self-contained component. I spoke with some of my educational contacts about moving my career back towards education, but nothing came of it. Meanwhile, the troubled airline business caused further cutbacks; finally in March of this year Faros terminated Wicat operation, and I found myself looking for work.

On to Moodle: My next door neighbors own a small school, a medical-dental technical college. The husband runs the business aspects, the wife is the educational director. They suggested I might have a look at what they called some IT problems at their school, which might serve as employment while I looked for employment, or even become a long-term position. After two days of reviewing their computer and records systems, I concluded that what was needed was more than a patch, but a thorough-going systematic approach. I had heard of Blackboard and WebCT, but hadnt heard much good about them and their cost was prohibitive (the school has 20 full-time employees). Still, those represented a systematic approach. During the next few days an associate of the school introduced me to Moodle. By the end of the week I was sure I had found the solution.

One thing has led to another. We are a long way from the overall implementation envisioned, but have made a lot of progress. I dont know where this will lead (anyone got an opening for someone who is equal parts educator, programmer, psychologist, simulations designerand loves Moodle?), but for now I feel that Moodle represents the coming-of-age of computer-assisted teaching. I will describe this more fully in the following blog on Moodle.

The Pope's Contradictions

(Last edited: Sunday, 17 April 2005, 8:00 PM)

March 26, 2005

 


CRISIS IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

The Pope's Contradictions

By Hans Küng

Outwardly Pope John Paul II, who has been actively involved in battling war and suppression, is a beacon of hope for those who long for freedom. Internally, however, his anti-reformist tenure has plunged the Roman Catholic church into an epochal credibility crisis.

The Catholic church is in dire straits. The pope is deathly ill and deserves every bit of sympathy he can get. But the church must live on, and in light of the selection of a new pope, it will need a diagnosis, an unadorned insider analysis. The therapy will be discussed later.

Many marvel at the staying power of this highly fragile, partially paralyzed head of the Roman Catholic church, a man who, despite all medications, is barely able to speak. He is treated with a sort of reverence that would never be extended to an American president or a German chancellor in a similar state. Others feel put off by a man they see as an obstinate office bearer who, instead of accepting the Christian path to his own eternity, is using all means at his disposal to hold on to power in a largely undemocratic system.

Even for many Catholics, this pope at the end of his physical strength, refusing to relinquish his power, is the symbol of a fraudulent church that has calcified and become senile behind its glittering façade.

The festive mood that prevailed during the Second Vatican Council (1962 to 1965), or Vatican II, has disappeared. Vatican II's outlook of renewal, ecumenical understanding and a general opening of the world now seems overcast and the future gloomy. Many have resigned themselves or even turned away out of frustration from this self-absorbed hierarchy. As a result, many people are confronted with an impossible set of alternatives: "play the game or leave the church." New hope will only begin to take root when church officials in Rome and in the episcopacy reorient themselves toward the compass of the Gospel.

Hans Kung

Hans Kung is one of today's leading Catholic theologians. Küng, a Swiss national living in the southern German city of Tübingen, has been embroiled in an ongoing feud with church authorities for decades. As a result of his critical inquiries on the papacy, the Vatican withdrew his church authority to teach in 1979. Nevertheless, Küng, 75, is still a priest and, until his retirement in 1995, taught ecumenical theology at the University of Tübingen. As president of the Global Ethic Foundation, Küng is also an advisor to the United Nations.

CONTINUE

One of the few glimmers of hope has been the pope's stance against the Iraq war and war in general. The role the Polish pope played in helping bring about the collapse of the Soviet empire is also emphasized, and rightly so. But it's also heavily exaggerated by papal propagandists. After all, the Soviet regime did not fail because of the pope (before the arrival of Gorbachev, the pope was achieving about as little as he is now achieving in China), but instead imploded because of the Soviet system's inherent economic and social contradictions.

In my view, Karol Wojtyla is not the greatest, but certainly the most contradictory, pope of the 20th century. A pope of many great gifts and many wrong decisions! To summarize his tenure and reduce it to a common denominator: His "foreign policy" demands conversion, reform and dialogue from the rest of the world. But this is sharply contradicted by his "domestic policy," which is oriented toward the restoration of the pre-council status quo, obstructing reform, denying dialogue within the church, and absolute Roman dominance. This inconsistency is evident in many areas. While expressly acknowledging the positive sides of this pontificate, which, incidentally, have received plenty of official emphasis, I would like to focus on the nine most glaring contradictions:

HUMAN RIGHTS: Outwardly, John Paul II supports human rights, while inwardly withholding them from bishops, theologians and especially women.

The Vatican -- once a resolute foe of human rights, but nowadays all too willing to become involved in European politics -- has yet to sign the European Council's Declaration of Human Rights. Far too many canons of the absolutist Roman church law of the Middle Ages would have to be amended first. The concept of separation of powers, the bedrock of all modern legal practice, is unknown in the Roman Catholic church. Due process is an unknown entity in the church. In disputes, one and the same Vatican agency functions as lawmaker, prosecutor and judge.

Consequences: A servile episcopate and intolerable legal conditions. Any pastor, theologian or layperson who enters into a legal dispute with the higher church courts has virtually no prospects of prevailing.

THE ROLE OF WOMEN: The great worshiper of the Virgin Mary preaches a noble concept of womanhood, but at the same time forbids women from practicing birth control and bars them from ordination.

Consequences: There is a rift between external conformism and internal autonomy of conscience. This results in bishops who lean towards Rome, alienating themselves from women, as was the case in the dispute surrounding the issue of abortion counseling (in 1999, the Pope ordered German bishops to close counseling centers that issued certificates to women that could later be used to get an abortion). This in turn leads to a growing exodus among those women who have so far remained faithful to the church.

SEXUAL MORALS: This pope, while preaching against mass poverty and suffering in the world, makes himself partially responsible for this suffering as a result of his attitudes toward birth control and explosive population growth.

During his many trips and in a speech to the 1994 United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, John Paul II declared his opposition to the pill and condoms. As a result, the pope, more than any other statesman, can be held partly responsible for uncontrolled population growth in some countries and the spread of AIDS in Africa.

Consequences: Even in traditionally Catholic countries like Ireland, Spain and Portugal, the pope's and the Roman Catholic church's rigorous sexual morals are openly or tacitly rejected.

CELIBACY AMONG PRIESTS: By propagating the traditional image of the celibate male priest, Karol Wojtyla bears the principal responsibility for the catastrophic dearth of priests, the collapse of spiritual welfare in many countries, and the many pedophilia scandals the church is no longer able to cover up.

Marriage is still forbidden to men who have agreed to devote their lives to the priesthood. This is only one example of how this pope, like others before him, is ignoring the teachings of the bible and the great Catholic tradition of the first millennium, which did not require office bearers to take a vow of celibacy. If someone, by virtue of his office, is forced to spend his life without a wife and children, there is a great risk that healthy integration of sexuality will fail, which can lead to pedophilic acts, for example.

Consequences: The ranks have been thinned and there is a lack of new blood in the Catholic church. Soon almost two-thirds of parishes, both in German-speaking countries and elsewhere, will be without an ordained pastor and regular celebrations of the Eucharist. It's a deficiency that even the declining influx of priests from other countries (1,400 of Germany's priests are from Poland, India and Africa) and the combining of parishes into "spiritual welfare units," a highly unpopular trend among the faithful, can no longer hide. The number of newly ordained priests in Germany dropped from 366 in 1990 to 161 in 2003, and the average age of active priests today is now above 60.

ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT: The pope likes to be seen as a spokesman for the ecumenical movement. At the same time, however, he has weighed heavily on the Vatican's relations with orthodox and reform churches, and has refused to recognize their ecclesiastical offices and Communion services.

The pope could heed the advice of several ecumenical study commissions and follow the practice of many local pastors by recognizing the offices and Communion services of non-Catholic churches and permitting Eucharistic hospitality. He could also tone down the Vatican's excessive, medieval claim to power, in terms of doctrine and church leadership, vis-à-vis eastern European churches and reform churches, and could do away with the Vatican's policy of sending Roman-Catholic bishops to regions dominated by the Russian Orthodox church.

The pope could do these things, but John Paul II doesn't want to. Instead, he wants to preserve and even expand the Roman power system. For this reason, he resorts to a pious two-facedness: Rome's politics of power and prestige are veiled by ecumenical soapbox speeches and empty gestures.

Consequences: Ecumenical understanding was blocked after the council, and relations with the Orthodox and Protestant churches were burdened to an appalling extent. The papacy, like its predecessors in the 11th and 16th centuries, is proving to be the greatest obstacle to unity among Christian churches in freedom and diversity.

PERSONNEL POLICY: As a suffragan bishop and later as archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla took part in the Second Vatican Council. But as pope, he disregarded the collegiality which had been agreed to there and instead celebrated the triumph of his papacy at the cost of the bishops.

With his "internal policies," this Pope betrayed the council numerous times. Instead of using the conciliatory program words "Aggiornamento - Dialogue and Collegiality -- ecumenical," what's valid now in doctrine and practice is "restoration, lectureship, obedience and re-Romanization." The criteria for the appointment of a bishop is not the spirit of the gospel or pastoral open-mindedness, but rather to be absolutely loyal to the party line in Rome. Before their appointment, their fundamental conformity is tested based on a curial catalog of questions and they are sacrally sealed through a personal and unlimited pledge of obedience to the Pope that is tantamount to an oath to the "Fuehrer."

The Pope's friends among the German-speaking bishops include Cologne's Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the Bishop of Fulda Johannes Dyba, who died in 2000, Hans Hermann Groer, who resigned from his post as Vienna's cardinal in 1995 following allegations that he had sexually abused pupils years before and the Bishop of St. Poeltin, Kurt Krenn, who just lost his post after a sex scandal emerged in his priests' seminary. Those are just the most spectacular mistakes of these pastorally devastating personnel policies, which have allowed the moral, intellectual and pastoral level of the episcopate to dangerously slip.

Consequences: A largely mediocre, ultra-conservative and servile episcopate is possibly the most serious burden of this overly long pontificate. The masses of cheering Catholics at the best-staged Pope manifestations should not deceive: Millions have left the church under this pontificate or they have withdrawn from religious life in opposition.

CLERICALISM: The Polish pope comes across as a deeply religious representative of a Christian Europe, but his triumphant appearances and his reactionary policies unintentionally promote hostility to the church and even an aversion to Christianity.

In the papal campaign of evangelization, which centers on a sexual morality that is out of step with the times, women, in particular, who do not share the Vatican's position on controversial issues like birth control, abortion, divorce and artificial insemination are disparaged as promoters of a "culture of death." As a result of its interventions -- in Germany, for example, where it sought to influence politicians and the episcopacy in the dispute surrounding the issue of abortion counseling -- the Roman Curia creates the impression that it has little respect for the legal separation of church and state. Indeed, the Vatican (using the European People's Party as its mouthpiece) is also trying to exert pressure on the European Parliament by calling for the appointment of experts, in issues relating to abortion legislation, for example, who are especially loyal to Rome. Instead of entering the social mainstream everywhere by supporting reasonable solutions, the Roman Curia, through its proclamations and secret agitation (through nuntiatures, bishops' conferences and "friends"), is in fact fueling the polarization between the pro-life and pro-choice movements, between moralists and libertines.

Consequences: Rome's clericalist policy merely strengthens the position of dogmatic anti-clericalists and fundamentalist atheists. It also creates suspicion among believers that religion could be being misused for political ends.

NEW BLOOD IN THE CHURCH: As a charismatic communicator and media star, this pope is especially effective among young people, even as he grows older. But he achieves this by drawing in large part on the conservative "new movements" of Italian origin, the "Opus Dei" movement that originated in Spain, and an uncritical public loyal to the pope. All of this is symptomatic of the pope's approach to dealing with the lay public and his inability to converse with his critics.

The major regional and international youth events sponsored by the new lay movements (Focolare, Comunione e Liberazione, St. Egidio, Regnum Christi) and supervised by the church hierarchy attract hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them well-meaning but far too many uncritical. In times when they lack convincing leadership figures, these young people are most impressed by a shared "event." The personal magnetism of "John Paul Superstar" is usually more important than the content of the pope's speeches, while their effects on parish life are minimal.

In keeping with his ideal of a uniform and obedient church, the pope sees the future of the church almost exclusively in these easily controlled, conservative lay movements. This includes the Vatican's distancing itself from the Jesuit order, which is oriented toward the tenets of the council. Preferred by earlier popes, the Jesuits, because of their intellectual qualities, critical theology and liberal theological options, are now perceived as spanners in the works of the papal restoration policy.

Instead, Karol Wojtyla, even during his tenure as archbishop of Krakow, placed his full confidence in the financially powerful and influential, but undemocratic and secretive Opus Dei movement, a group linked to fascist regimes in the past and now especially active in the world of finance, politics and journalism. In fact, by granting Opus Dei special legal status, the pope even made the organization exempt from supervision by the church's bishops.

Consequences: Young people from church groups and congregations (with the exception of alter servers), and especially the non-organized "average Catholics," usually stay away from major youth get-togethers. Catholic youth organizations at odds with the Vatican are disciplined and starved when local bishops, at Rome's behest, withhold their funding. The growing role of the archconservative and non-transparent Opus Dei movement in many institutions has created a climate of uncertainty and suspicion. Once-critical bishops have cozied up to Opus Dei, while laypeople who were once involved in the church have withdrawn in resignation.

SINS OF THE PAST: Despite the fact that in 2000 he forced himself through a public confession of the church's historical transgressions, John Paul II has drawn almost no practical consequences from it.

The baroque and bombastic confession of the church's transgressions, staged with cardinals in St. Peter's Cathedral, remained vague, non-specific and ambiguous. The pope only asked for forgiveness for the transgressions of the "sons and daughters" of the church, but not for those of the "Holy Fathers," those of the "church itself" and those of the hierarchies present at the event.

The pope never commented on the Curia's dealings with the Mafia, and in fact contributed more to covering up than uncovering scandals and criminal behavior. The Vatican has also been extremely slow to prosecute pedophilia scandals involving Catholic clergy.

Consequences: The half-hearted papal confession remained without consequences, producing neither reversals nor action, only words.

For the Catholic church, this pontificate, despite its positive aspects, has on the whole proven to be a great disappointment and, ultimately, a disaster. As a result of his contradictions, this pope has deeply polarized the church, alienated it from countless people and plunged it into an epochal crisis -- a structural crisis that, after a quarter century, is now revealing fatal deficits in terms of development and a tremendous need for reform.

Contrary to all intentions conveyed in the Second Vatican Council, the medieval Roman system, a power apparatus with totalitarian features, was restored through clever and ruthless personnel and academic policies. Bishops were brought into line, pastors overloaded, theologians muzzled, the laity deprived of their rights, women discriminated against, national synods and churchgoers' requests ignored, along with sex scandals, prohibitions on discussion, liturgical spoon-feeding, a ban on sermons by lay theologians, incitement to denunciation, prevention of Holy Communion -- "the world" can hardly be blamed for all of this!!

The upshot is that the Catholic church has completely lost the enormous credibility it once enjoyed under the papacy of John XXIII and in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

If the next pope were to continue the policies of this pontificate, he would only reinforce an enormous backup of problems and turn the Catholic church's current structural crisis into a hopeless situation. Instead, a new pope must decide in favor of a change in course and inspire the church to embark on new paths -- in the spirit of John XXIII and in keeping with the impetus for reform brought about by the Second Vatican Council.




© DER SPIEGEL 13/2005
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH

 

 

 


 

Tiro ao crucifixo

(Last edited: Friday, 2 December 2005, 9:39 PM)
DN, 2 de Dezembro de 2005


Tiro ao crucifixo



José Carlos Fernandes
807577.jpg
Eu só quero que me expliquem isto porque é que ter um crucifixo pendurado na parede de uma escola é uma ofensa à laicidade do Estado e um atentado à Constituição, e já não é uma ofensa à laicidade do Estado nem um atentado à Constituição o país inteiro prestar homenagem, através de um dia feriado, ao nascimento de Jesus (Natal), à morte de Jesus (Sexta-feira Santa), à ressurreição de Jesus (Páscoa), à celebração da Eucaristia (Corpo de Deus), aos santos e mártires da Igreja (Dia de Todos os Santos), à subida ao céu de Maria (Assunção de Nossa Senhora), e até ao facto de a mãe de Jesus, através de uma cunha de Deus, ter-se safado do pecado original no momento em que os seus pais a conceberam (Imaculada Conceição). Na próxima quinta-feira, dia 8 de Dezembro, o Estado português vai curvar-se alegremente diante de um dogma de alcofa inventado no século XIX por uma Igreja acossada pela secularização, mas até lá entretém- -se a subir ao escadote para remover cruzes de madeira, esses malvados instrumentos que instigam à conversão religiosa. Em Portugal, já se sabe, a lógica é uma batata.

Por mim, podem limpar as escolas de todos os crucifixos, e, já agora, que se aproxima essa perigosa quadra para o laicismo do Estado chamada Natal, podem proibir também os presépios e até a apanha de musgo. A única coisa que me incomoda neste pequeno psicodrama é que o Ministério da Educação perca o seu tempo a expelir circulares muito legais, muito constitucionais e muito burras. O senhor que está pendurado nos crucifixos não é apenas um símbolo religioso - é também um símbolo civilizacional, que atravessa todo o Ocidente através da pintura, da literatura, da música, da arquitectura, do teatro, do cinema. Mais do que propaganda católica, o crucifixo faz parte da nossa identidade e é uma chave para compreender os últimos 21 séculos de História. Não tem a ver com fé. Não tem a ver com Deus. Tem a ver connosco.
João Miguel Tavares

jmtavares@dn.pt
U

Um ano de desafios

(Last edited: Friday, 21 October 2005, 3:56 PM)
2005-09-18 - 00:00:00, Correio da Manhã

Opinião


Um ano de desafios

A Sociedade evolui e por isso a formação a ministrar não pode deixar de lado preocupações de cidadania, de conhecimento, de cultura, de desporto, enfim, da plenitude de uma intervenção cívica que bem alicerce a razão de ser do cidadão de pleno direito.
O início de cada ano lectivo é marcado pela expectativa que todos os que nele se vêm envolvidos colocam, quer sob o ponto de vista do ensino propriamente dito, quer sob o ponto de vista do conjunto das condições que asseguram a sua normalidade.

Este ano, àquelas expectativas acrescem as alterações consagradas na nova Lei de Bases, que acarretarão para o Ensino Superior o colocar de novas hipóteses de trabalho abrangendo a implementação de novas metodologias, novos curricula, novas atitudes face aos processos de ensino e de aprendizagem e, principalmente, as que decorrem do designado Processo de Bolonha.

Na realidade, o Processo de Bolonha traz consigo a exigência de uma maior participação dos professores na vida dos estudantes e, simultaneamente, exige dos estudantes uma nova atitude perante os professores e o ensino, pressupondo uma posição activa e permanente na assimilação dos conhecimentos, com consequente rejeição da passividade apenas alterada pela urgência requerida pela ameaça dos exames.

Daqui decorre também a importância de uma reflexão que tem de ser feita por todos, quer quanto à duração dos ciclos previstos no referido Processo de Bolonha, quer quanto à nova organização de mestrados e ainda ao combate ao insucesso escolar, à boa aceitação dos perfis académicos face às solicitações do mercado de trabalho e, naturalmente, à plena realização pessoal e profissional.

A este novo mundo de desafios deverá corresponder uma atitude positiva por parte da universidade, sabendo bem receber os que a procuram e a ela se acolhem, e que nela confiam, não esquecendo que o seu papel não pode resumir-se ao de mero transmissor de conhecimentos e esgotar a sua capacidade na apresentação de um saber adquirido e consolidado.

A sociedade evolui e por isso a formação a ministrar não pode deixar de lado preocupações de cidadania, de conhecimento, de cultura, de desporto, enfim, da plenitude de uma intervenção cívica que bem alicerce a razão de ser do cidadão de pleno direito.

Dir-se-á que é exigir muito e que, com tanta solicitação, o estudante tem pela frente uma tarefa intransponível.

Mas não pode ser essa a atitude. Há que confiar nas capacidades e nas vontades. E há, acima de tudo, que encontrar o método que permita conciliar os diferentes deveres para os canalizar para o resultado final pretendido: o sucesso. Os alunos não podem ser, hoje, meros espectadores: têm de ser interventivos, participantes e activos.

É com este espírito que temos de partir para o novo ano: a universidade é um local de trabalho em que todos têm de tomar parte, transmitindo saberes já adquiridos, construindo novos mundos de conhecimento, buscando o enriquecimento cultural e científico, com abertura de espírito às inovações dos processos, tendo por meta final o bem-estar da sociedade.

José Lopes da Silva, Presidente do Conselho dos Reitores das Universidades Portuguesas

Um ano de desafios, José Lopes da Silva

(Last edited: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 3:31 PM)
2005-09-18 - 00:00:00, Correio da Manhã

Opinião


Um ano de desafios

A Sociedade evolui e por isso a formação a ministrar não pode deixar de lado preocupações de cidadania, de conhecimento, de cultura, de desporto, enfim, da plenitude de uma intervenção cívica que bem alicerce a razão de ser do cidadão de pleno direito.

O início de cada ano lectivo é marcado pela expectativa que todos os que nele se vêm envolvidos colocam, quer sob o ponto de vista do ensino propriamente dito, quer sob o ponto de vista do conjunto das condições que asseguram a sua normalidade.

Este ano, àquelas expectativas acrescem as alterações consagradas na nova Lei de Bases, que acarretarão para o Ensino Superior o colocar de novas hipóteses de trabalho abrangendo a implementação de novas metodologias, novos curricula, novas atitudes face aos processos de ensino e de aprendizagem e, principalmente, as que decorrem do designado Processo de Bolonha.

Na realidade, o Processo de Bolonha traz consigo a exigência de uma maior participação dos professores na vida dos estudantes e, simultaneamente, exige dos estudantes uma nova atitude perante os professores e o ensino, pressupondo uma posição activa e permanente na assimilação dos conhecimentos, com consequente rejeição da passividade apenas alterada pela urgência requerida pela ameaça dos exames.

Daqui decorre também a importância de uma reflexão que tem de ser feita por todos, quer quanto à duração dos ciclos previstos no referido Processo de Bolonha, quer quanto à nova organização de mestrados e ainda ao combate ao insucesso escolar, à boa aceitação dos perfis académicos face às solicitações do mercado de trabalho e, naturalmente, à plena realização pessoal e profissional.

A este novo mundo de desafios deverá corresponder uma atitude positiva por parte da universidade, sabendo bem receber os que a procuram e a ela se acolhem, e que nela confiam, não esquecendo que o seu papel não pode resumir-se ao de mero transmissor de conhecimentos e esgotar a sua capacidade na apresentação de um saber adquirido e consolidado.

A sociedade evolui e por isso a formação a ministrar não pode deixar de lado preocupações de cidadania, de conhecimento, de cultura, de desporto, enfim, da plenitude de uma intervenção cívica que bem alicerce a razão de ser do cidadão de pleno direito.

Dir-se-á que é exigir muito e que, com tanta solicitação, o estudante tem pela frente uma tarefa intransponível.

Mas não pode ser essa a atitude. Há que confiar nas capacidades e nas vontades. E há, acima de tudo, que encontrar o método que permita conciliar os diferentes deveres para os canalizar para o resultado final pretendido: o sucesso. Os alunos não podem ser, hoje, meros espectadores: têm de ser interventivos, participantes e activos.

É com este espírito que temos de partir para o novo ano: a universidade é um local de trabalho em que todos têm de tomar parte, transmitindo saberes já adquiridos, construindo novos mundos de conhecimento, buscando o enriquecimento cultural e científico, com abertura de espírito às inovações dos processos, tendo por meta final o bem-estar da sociedade.
José Lopes da Silva, Presidente do Conselho dos Reitores das Universidades Portuguesas

Uma comissão de avaliação de manuais

(Last edited: Saturday, 3 December 2005, 10:34 PM)
http://www.criticanarede.com/ed104.html

Uma comissão de avaliação de manuais
Richard Feynman

Nessa altura eu estava a dar uma série de aulas de Iniciação de Física e, depois de uma delas, Tom Harvey, que me ajudava a preparar as demonstrações, disse: "Devia ver o que se passa com a Matemática nos livros escolares! A minha filha chega a casa com uma data de disparates!"

Não prestei muita atenção ao que ele disse.

Mas no dia seguinte recebi um telefonema de um advogado bastante famoso de Pasadena, o Sr. Norris, que nessa altura pertencia à Junta Estadual de Educação. Pediu-me que fizesse parte da Comissão Curricular Estadual, que devia escolher os novos manuais para o estado da Califórnia. Sabem, o estado tem uma lei segundo a qual todos os manuais usados por todos os miúdos em todas as escolas oficiais têm de ser escolhidos pela Junta Estadual de Educação, pelo que formam uma comissão para ver os livros e aconselhar que livros eles devem escolher.

[...] Por esta altura, eu devia ter um sentimento de culpa por não cooperar com o Governo, dado que aceitei fazer parte da Comissão.

Comecei imediatamente a receber cartas e telefonemas dos editores. Diziam coisas como: "Ficámos muito satisfeitos ao saber que o senhor pertence à comissão porque queríamos realmente um homem de ciência..." e "É maravilhoso ter um cientista na comissão, porque os nossos livros têm uma orientação científica...". Mas também diziam coisas como: "Gostaríamos de lhe explicar a intenção do nosso livro..." e "Teremos muito gosto em o ajudar no que pudermos a avaliar os nossos livros...". Aquilo afigurava-se-me um disparate. Sou um cientista objectivo e parecia-me que, como a única coisa que os miúdos iam receber na escola eram os livros (e os professores recebiam o manual do professor, que eu também receberia), qualquer explicação extra seria uma distorção. Por isso não quis falar com nenhum dos editores e respondi sempre: "Não precisam de explicar; estou certo de que os livros falarão por si".

[...] A Sr.ª Whitehouse começou por me falar nas coisas que iam debater na próxima reunião (já tinham tido uma reunião; eu fora nomeado mais tarde). "Vão falar sobre os números de contar". Eu não sabia o que aquilo era, mas afinal era o que eu costumo chamar números inteiros. Tinham nomes diferentes para tudo, pelo que tive imensos problemas logo de início.

Ela contou-me como os membros da Comissão avaliavam os novos livros escolares. Arranjavam um número relativamente grande de exemplares de cada livro e davam-nos a vários professores e administradores do seu distrito. Depois recebiam relatórios do que essas pessoas pensavam sobre os livros. Como não conheço uma data de professores ou administradores, e como achava que, lendo os livros sozinho, podia formar uma opinião sobre o que me pareciam, resolvi ler os livros todos sozinho.

[...] Então fui à primeira reunião. Os outros membros tinham atribuído uma espécie de pontuação a alguns livros e perguntaram-me quais eram as minhas pontuações. Muitas vezes a minha pontuação era diferente da deles e eles perguntavam: "Por que deu uma pontuação tão baixa a esse livro?"

Eu dizia que o problema daquele livro era isto e aquilo na página tal tinha os meus apontamentos.

Descobriram que eu era uma espécie de mina de ouro: dizia-lhes, em detalhe, o que havia de bom e de mau em todos os livros; tinha uma razão para cada pontuação.

Perguntava-lhes por que tinham dado uma pontuação tão alta a determinado livro e eles diziam: "Diga-nos o que pensou do livro tal". Eu nunca descobria porque é que eles tinham pontuado uma coisa de determinada maneira. Em vez disso, estavam sempre a perguntar-me o que eu pensava.

Chegámos a um certo livro que fazia parte de um conjunto de três livros suplementares publicados pela mesma editora e perguntaram-me o que pensava dele.

Eu disse: "O depósito de livros não me mandou esse livro, mas os outros dois eram bons".

Alguém tentou repetir a pergunta: "O que pensa do livro?"

"Já disse que não me mandaram esse, pelo que não tenho opinião sobre ele".

O homem do depósito de livros estava lá e disse: "Desculpem; posso explicar isso. Não lho mandei porque esse livro ainda não estava completo. Há uma regra segundo a qual as entradas têm de ser todas até uma certa altura e o editor atrasou-se uns dias. Por isso nos foi enviado apenas com as capas e o interior em branco. Da companhia mandaram-me uma nota pedindo desculpa e dizendo esperar que pudessem considerar o conjunto dos três livros, apesar de o terceiro vir atrasado".

Verificou-se que o livro em branco tinha pontuação de alguns dos outros membros! Não acreditavam que estivesse em branco porque tinham uma pontuação. Na realidade, a pontuação para o livro que faltava era um pouco mais alta do que para os outros dois. O facto de não haver nada no livro não tinha nada a ver com a pontuação.

Creio que a razão de tudo isto é o sistema funcionar deste modo: quando enchemos as pessoas de livros, elas ficam ocupadas, ficam descuidadas e pensam: "Bem, há muita gente a ler estes livros, pelo que não faz diferença". E põem um número qualquer algumas, pelo menos; não todas, mas algumas.

[...] Esta questão de tentar descobrir se um livro é bom ou mau lendo-o cuidadosamente ou recebendo os relatórios de uma quantidade de pessoas que o lêem descuidadamente é como este famoso problema antigo: ninguém podia ver o imperador da China e a pergunta era: qual o comprimento do nariz do imperador da China? Para o descobrir, percorremos todo o país, perguntando às pessoas que comprimento julgam ter o nariz do imperador da China e calculamos a média. E o cálculo seria muito "preciso" porque considerámos muitas pessoas. Mas esta não é a maneira de descobrir seja o que for.