What do you read? Perhaps more importantly, when?

A student asked me recently what I read when I want to read good writing. It occurred to me I really haven’t done much of that recently. I scan and skim a lot of blogs, mostly about journalism, the media, media tech or college media specifically. Almost like checking the weather rather than actually diving into thoughtfully written material. But I haven’t done even that much recently, finding most of the blogs to be noise written to draw traffic rather than actually engage a reader.

I finished reading “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing To Our Brains” over the break and started up “Outliers: The Story of Success.” I like the way these books explain actual things that happened or are happening. There’s something interesting about the authors’ attempts at making sense of things.

I would read a major newspaper every day, but it’s gotten to be more of a shell of its former self, like a fossil telling a story of a different age. My favorite form of journalism at the moment is NPR. No reading involved, but I do feel like I’m gaining a deeper appreciation for the form. And yes, I’ve actually donated.

What do you read? And when do you find time to do it?

Making it harder to cheat

Overhearing a discussion about cheating on classwork the other day, I had this thought: Good teachers really ought to make it harder for students to cheat in any way they can. They should be constantly trying to out-smart their students, because the students are trying to out-smart them. They work in groups, collaborate and exploit existing resources quite well in order to make up for not studying and actually understanding the material. Students develop these skills quite nicely, which is an education in itself, but they suffer by not actually learning what teachers want them to learn.

In the context of a high school English class, I have these suggestions, which I would argue both thwart cheaters and encourage true student engagement.

  1. Sparknotes and Cliffnotes have made it all too easy to cheat by reading summary material instead of the actual source. Does Sparknotes have an entry for “Hunger Games“? I couldn’t find one. So cut back on the Shakespeare and pick a book or two from the young-adult bestseller list. Teach a text students will actually want to read and they might actually read it.
  2.  Analyze a film from the last century. Even some of the old greats — Citizen Kane — would be better than another go at “Othello”. Plot is plot. Character development is character development. Irony is irony. Critical thinking is critical thinking, right?
  3. Tell the students to read editorials from the local newspaper and critique them. Encourage them to write a letter to the editor on a local issue.
  4. If you do read classics (which of course, should be done), find modern versions of it to play in class, even if not direct remakes, but similar plot lines. Realize that Shakespeare was the soap opera writer of his day. Or, find modern films or TV shows that allude to the classics and quiz students on what was alluded.
Anyway, I’m not trained in education, but it seems that there could be more done on the teaching side to combat cheating. And in some courses that might mean veering from the traditional track and taking students into unexpected territory, where they have no choice but to learn.


I might pay to never see a Flash ad again

Flash advertising on Chron.com
Case in point: Obtrusive Flash banner overlay advertising on chron.com. What's it going to cost me to make these go away forever?

You win, Internet.

I’ve hit one too many news websites where my quest for information is assaulted and derailed by the visual violence of Flash banner advertising. Houston’s Chron.com is a huge culprit. I avoid it at all costs.

So, tell me, Internet, how much is it going to cost to either eliminate or drastically reduce banner ads? $1 a month per site? $5? I understand effective CPM. What’s the revenue per user you need to make it worthwhile?

Installing an ad-blocker plugin on my browser is not enough. I’m also tired of having presentation systems disrupted by the demand for banner ad positions. Print publication designers can design covers, spreads and certain other pages knowing they don’t have to design around ads. Newspaper sites should treat their web front page with the same reverence as their print front page. Sure, allow one or two premium ads. But don’t obstruct the news with your ridiculous Flash animation.