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Monday, March 24, 2008

Keith Miller and The Black Swan

I really enjoyed Professor Keith Miller's sabbatical presentation last week. He's an expert on computer ethics and a professor in our Computer Science department. What I especially appreciated was his commentary about problems with perceiving "the bell curve" as an explanation of what really matters. He said language is important and so is "presentation" -- because words and the presentation of ideas strongly affect how we perceive and make judgments about things. And he recommended a best-selling book -- The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A "black swan" has become a metaphor for all things that don't happen often, yet have a high impact. These events and ideas are at the extreme ends of the bell curve and yet are highly important. I have ordered The Black Swan and look forward to having my own thought processes stretched by Keith's sabbatical and the black swan concept. Isn't that what a university should be doing?

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At March 24, 2008 at 8:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Black Swan theory is very interesting and I think you'll enjoy it. I too highly suggest reading this book as I have heard nothing but good things about it. Dr. Keith Miller is an excellent teacher and I wish I had had the opportunity to take a class with him. I have sat in on his lectures before though.

I am interested though in how you would relate the Black Swan theory to higher education, can you elaborate a bit more on that? On Enrollment? On Student Life?

At March 28, 2008 at 2:57 PM , Anonymous Ed Wojcicki said...

The black swan in higher education? What a great question! It would be the rare and high-impact moment, event, faculty member -- maybe that one faculty member whose class we took no matter what the subject matter was just because he/she is a great teacher.

At March 28, 2008 at 4:29 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I strongly agree that how we present our ideas matter a lot. But this does not mean I like it. I actually HATE it because a lot of times I feel very stupid because I can't present myself in an "intelligent" way. And it sucks because I believe myself to be smart, but I feel like it doesn't matter as long as I don't know how to communicate effectively. One of the consequences of this is manipulation. Thinking that delivery is probably more important than content, we lose ourselves in the art of manipulation and forget what we believe in. Maybe instead of telling people to focus on how we deliver the content, which makes people like me never get a word out because I'm so worried I won't get my ideas out right and I'll sound stupid, let's put more emphasis on the process of understanding eachother. This involves just getting the ideas out and trying to figure it out rather than wasting so much time trying to make it right the first time. This involves participation of course, for one side to give an idea no matter how unrefined it is, and for the other side to question it. It's a back and forth relationship and though it may take a while, it takes away the pressure of trying to always say things the right way which consequently sometimes mean never saying them at all. Why can't I say things how I want to say them? Maybe we should be more supportive and let eachother sound stupid or ridiculous. It makes people more comfortable and less nervous which opens the door for people to express their ideas without being scared that they won't sound smart enough.

At March 28, 2008 at 5:09 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking is a skill that can be learned. Quit worrying about what people are going to think of you and express your ideas. Then, in your free time, continue to work on improving your speech delivery. Nobody's perfect on delivery everytime. Some are just better more often.


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