Saturday, January 23, 2010

True or False?: Multiple Choice Can Test Understanding

I've always been rather sceptical of the idea of multiple choice tests, because they're often administered badly and so merely test factual recall - e.g. what year was Hobbes' Leviathan published?: a) 1641, b) 1646, c) 1651, d) 1656. That's no way to test university students, who should be developing understanding rather than merely the ability to cram many facts into their heads.

Doug Portmore interactive quiz on hedonistic act-utilitarianism, however, strikes me as a fine example of how such testing can be done well. Granted the fact that it's binary (necessarily true or not necessarily true, rather than true/false) means you'd expect someone to get 50% just by guessing randomly, and maybe notably higher with a bit of luck and knowledge. Nonetheless, to get all the answers right - as I did - suggests that one is either very lucky or has a pretty good understanding of the implications of the stated theory.

Maybe there is a place for multiple choice tests, given their advantages (ease of marking being one) and I might even send this one to my students over the Easter vac...

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Dilbert does REF

The RAE and its planned successor the REF have been big talking points amongst academics for a while - already touched on on this blog.

While PHD comics already exposed problems with using 'impact factor' (citation counts) as a proxy for research quality, I was surprised to see that such concerns are not confined to academia (though, perhaps on reflection, it should have been obvious that 'value indicators' and such like are simply being imported from the business world). Here's what Dilbert has to say about quantifying research value.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I Wonder Whether They'll Introduce Birth Control...

China famously introduced a one-child policy to curb population growth. I wonder if similar might be heading for the UK. This BBC story seems to have been updated throughout the day, the focus shifting from numbers to Carey's views on assimilation to British (read: Christian?) values. Nonetheless, it seems that "He is among a group of MPs and peers warning that the population should not be allowed to go beyond 70 million."

If that's the concern then, logically, it is relevant not only to immigration but also 'natural' (indigenous) population growth. Maybe if we near 70M there will have to be strict birth controls - or perhaps he favours mandatory euthanasia programmes instead...

(I recognize that it's slightly unfair to foist this false dichotomy on him. There's at least one other option: (forced?) emigration...)

An Unelected PM?

BBC politics blogger Nick Robinson is babbling on about the prospect of Gordon Brown being replaced by an unelected leader. Now, I'm only a theorist of democracy, and not an expert on the British electoral system, but it seems to me that this is always the case. For all the talk of Blair's 'presidential' style, we don't (yet) elect the PM the way that Americans elect their President.

It seems that a couple of commentators get things right. Firstly, assuming Brown were to be replaced by an MP, then that person would have been elected by his or her constituency (just like Blair, Brown, Cameron and any other MP). Secondly, what we - the public at large - do is simply choose our local representatives. The party with the most of these, in the aggregate, get to form a government, and they get to choose their leader/Prime Minister.

We may not have elected Brown PM, but there's no straightforward sense in which we elected Blair PM in 1997 either...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Ballots for Blair Seats

Tony Blair's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry is public but has generated such interest that seats will have to be balloted. Sir John Chilcot, chairing the inquiry, says "We believe the fairest way to do this is to allocate seats by ballot. Note that, actually, certain places are reserved for priority groups (e.g. relatives of servicemen), but those places will also be subject to a ballot among members of the priority group.

On the subject of random selection, Michael Cholbi is contemplating the merits of random selection to assign student groups over at ISW.

Departmental Lecturer in Philosophy

Those who have recently experienced frustration at the APA may like to know that the deadline for a departmental lecturership in philosophy, to replace Timothy Williamson, has been extended to 25th January. Postdoctoral experience required and AOS: epistemology, metaphysics, philosophical logic, or philosophy of language.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Hard Times in Leeds?

Earlier this (academic) year, I applied for a lectureship in philosophy at Leeds (who'd actually advertised two positions). Some time after the closing date, I received an email informing me that, unfortunately, both positions had been cancelled pending a university-wide budgetary review. Always annoying, though not the first time this has happened to me.

This Times Higher article suggests the depth of the problems. It seems - from one of the comments - that the Faculties of Biological Sciences and Healthcare studies at Leeds seriously misjudged their RAE strategy, causing a significant budget shortfall. I'm not really privy to the necessary information to judge, but it seems like university-wide cuts are necessary to bail them out...