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Comment by stefie_k on College discussion thread · 2014-04-02T15:25:39.961Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is true, but for classes like these in particular, you need to stay focused on getting useful things out of them. This is important for any college class, of course, but at colleges like this, the classes are likely to be geared to a student population with wildly varying abilities and knowledge. If you allow the class to be what determines how hard you work, you (if you visit a site like this) will probably learn a whole lot less in the time than you otherwise would, because the class will be focused on pushing students who need to learn more.

I say this as a community college instructor myself. I do push my best students as much as the struggling ones, but they could pass the class without getting as much out of it as they would at a more prestigious college.

Of course, if the class is just a general requirement you're taking to jump through the appropriate hoops, this may sound good to you. Still... please think carefully about what skills you might get out of the class anyway, and whether you might have a use for those skills later. Even if literature bores you, for instance, being able to write well is a useful skill... and while writing about literature isn't a very useful skill, you can still learn other, more useful writing skills even while writing about literature.

Comment by stefie_k on low stress employment/ munchkin income thread · 2013-07-24T13:56:59.845Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I work for Smarthinking (also as a writing tutor), and it only pays $12/hour if you have a Ph.D. If you have a Master's degree, $11/hour; a Bachelor's, $10/hour.

For what it's worth, they are reliable in supplying work hours, which is nice, and the work isn't bad.

ETA: Although they advertise and accept applications year-round, I have a suspicion that they hire/train new people only during the summer. I have only extremely limited data on this point (myself and one other person who both applied in the fall to be hired in May), but it seems worth mentioning as a possibility to be aware of. Alejandro1, what was your experience?

Comment by stefie_k on Gun Control: How would we know? · 2012-12-21T17:49:22.066Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There are further implications along these lines, too. It's isn't just ability, but willingness: at least some prospective teachers would probably be put off by the prospect of being required to be armed in the classroom.

Not that the job market for teachers isn't glutted, right now, but is "willingness to carry a gun and shoot to kill" really something that we want to select for, in teachers? It would compete with the ability to teach well in determining who actually teaches our children.

Comment by stefie_k on [Link] Why the kids don’t know no algebra · 2012-07-05T10:33:03.320Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I teach writing at a community college (I began in January), and I agree with this.

I wouldn't see that student as a sign of poor discipline. If the student was arguing solely about the grade, then like you, I would see it as a waste of time and emotional energy -- his and mine.

Incidentally, one of the things I like about the class I'm teaching is that, even before I got there, the syllabus was set up to get students thinking about their purposes in writing the various essays they write, and the purposes the authors of the assigned readings had. Many of my students aren't getting further than "the purpose is to inform" (argh!) yet, but at least I have an opportunity to teach the difference between instrumental goals and terminal goals.

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Avoid Motivated Cognition · 2012-06-09T17:32:00.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To follow up on my post:

The original post talks about noticing flinches and attachments, which is similar to what I discussed above. However, I would expect it to be a lot more difficult to notice the flinch itself than it would be to notice the aftereffects, because the flinch is one moment, and the aftereffects last. (At least, when I catch myself doing it, the flinch is a single moment, and then the rationalization normalizes very quickly unless I act to counter it.)

The momentary nature of the flinch would not only make it harder to notice, but also more difficult to teach people to notice flinches.

There may well be a better approach to this than the one I suggested, but I have to think that exercises/activities that focus on the aftereffects would work better than ones that depend on catching that flinch.

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Avoid Motivated Cognition · 2012-06-01T20:45:38.404Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The original post mentions some techniques for getting people to avoid rationalizing once they've realized they're doing it, but an earlier step is to get them to realize that they're doing it.

The key to this may be that a person who is rationalizing without realizing it is arguing with him/herself without realizing it, since it's easier to recognize (and to accept) that you're arguing than that you're rationalizing. Accordingly, getting people to realize that they're rationalizing would involve getting them to realize that they're the one that they're arguing with.

The 5-second-level goal would be simply to get them to realize that they're arguing, if that itself is an issue. The next step, getting them to recognize that they're arguing with themselves, would take longer for some people.

(Rationalizing can be distinguished from people who are arguing honestly with themselves in that a rationalizer cares which "one of them" wins, and the non-rationalizer doesn't.)

Step one: recognizing that you're arguing:

If this is an issue, the question to ask is whether the potential rationalizer is thinking about reasons. If you're thinking of reasons, you're mentally arguing with someone. When you want to get a glass of water, you generally don't think about any reasons why you should or shouldn't. When you want to get a soda or a cup of coffee, though, you might about reasons relating to the cost and/or health of the beverage. If so, you're arguing, whether with yourself, or with a mental representation of a friend who suggested drinking less soda/coffee, or whoever.

Step two: determining who you're arguing with:

This step would work best as a series of questions. First, who do you think you're arguing with? Is it a specific person? Is it a hypothetical person?

Why does this person disagree with you? What alternative position do they take, and why that one? What kind of person is it that you're arguing with?

What exactly are this person's arguments, that you're arguing against?

How much do you want to win the argument with this person? Why?

Any suggestions on other questions it would be good to ask in Step two? Personally, I tend to notice it if I'm rationalizing, so I'm not entirely sure how someone who doesn't notice would respond to these questions.

Comment by stefie_k on Low Hanging Fruit- Basic bedroom decorating · 2012-06-01T19:55:31.514Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Another thing worth mentioning: a carpet (depending on what the floor currently looks like). I have no particular thoughts on throw rugs, but if your floor is ugly and/or doesn't match what you're doing with the room, it'll make a huge difference to cover it with an as-close-to-wall-to-wall carpet as you can.

My last apartment had ugly tiles of the kind I associate with basements, and the rooms basically looked like rooms of some kind that had furniture in them. My current apartment is carpeted, and -- with the same furniture and mostly the same artwork -- it looks like a home.

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-05T05:30:55.957Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I want to take some of my criticism back. It seems to me that there are several instrumental goals that would help with the terminal goal of getting people to routinely be specific at useful times in the future. No one exercise has to encompass all of the instrumental goals. The list I see right now is:

1) Make people better at being specific.

2) Get people to appreciate the value of being specific.

3) Get people to recognize situations where they or other people aren't being specific.

4) Get people to react negatively to a lack of specifics.

5) Make it occur to people to be specific.

6) Show/get people to think of contexts to apply their new skill of being specific.

7) Get people to be specific as a habit, without thinking about it.

Your exercise could help with #1, and also #2 if the contrast between personality test results strikes the students as significant.

Mine is intended to help with #4, and with good scenarios, could help with #3 and #6. If the scenario involves something practical, it could also help with #2.

Feel free to add to my list.

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-04T17:06:58.505Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My exercise already calls for people to think of specific things they did recently in their lives. I doubt many exercises can do better than that.

In getting them to be specific in the present, it's hard to ask for better. In getting them to be specific in the future, I'm not sure, and the point is their future behavior, right?

Of course, my own exercise might be considered a cop-out in this regard; it doesn't get them to be specific in the present, even, and its main goal is to get them to simply be frustrated with a lack of specifics in the present and future.

In terms of application, I think people are already massively curious about who they are and how they fit in (and this might apply especially strongly to people who aren't the sort to read LW). Just improving folks' self-evaluations could be seen as a pretty big benefit.

Yeah, I can see that. But that's helpful in improving their self-evaluations, not in being specific as an ongoing habit. Still useful, but I'm not sure it helps with this goal.

Beating compartmentalization is almost an impossible mandate.

True, but we could probably bruise it a bit. It could help even to do something as simple as telling the students three other situations they could apply the same approach to. They'd have to be fairly similar to the exercise, or else it wouldn't establish a strong enough connection in the students' heads, but I do think that talking about closely-related applications could help. With the mission statement exercise, for instance, you could point out that the same approach could help them recognize the need for specifics and the range of possible specifics in 1) descriptions of courses in college catalogs, 2) the kinds of goals that institutions set for projects, and 3) political speeches.

(Any help making these three examples more specific would be gratefully appreciated.)

Maybe what we need is a series of related exercises that lend themselves to being applied in related but different situations, to push at the boundaries of compartmentalization.

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-04T06:45:03.236Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This gets people thinking of specifics, but would it contrast being specific with failing to be specific, and make the students want to be specific in the future? I think that the students need that contrast just to appreciate what the issue is, and they need to see what they're doing as something that could apply to a broad set of situations in order to find occasions to behave this way in the future.

I suppose you could contrast your test with a personality test that doesn't use specifics, and that could supply the contrast. How would you supply the applicability?

I might be overestimating people's tendency to compartmentalize, but I doubt it. Once, when my parents were visiting my apartment before I got a microwave, my mother wanted to reheat some food in the ordinary oven. She asked what temperature I thought she should use; I didn't reheat food in the oven very often, but I suggested 300 degrees.

It took me several seconds more before it occurred to me: "Mom, you reheat food in the toaster oven at home all of the time. What temperature do you use then?"

Then she knew what temperature she should use. But she didn't automatically bridge the gap from "toaster oven" to "real oven," and I almost didn't, either. We're looking at a bigger gap, here, and a very strong tendency to be not-specific.

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-04T06:30:23.215Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That was kind of my intention, but I had imagined that they wouldn't be the only ones. (Misery loves company?) I was thinking that you might do dialogues like in Eliezer's example with a lot of people (privately), as one rationality exercise, then use that to put together a large set of scenarios.

Remember, students will probably need scenarios that are different enough from their own lives for them to recognize the lack of specifics. Eliezer's example might not work at all well for someone involved in an online company, and/or a startup, because it might seem normal rather than frustration-provoking.

I don't know; maybe other people here have a strong enough idea of what people actually say in these situations, and can write realistic dialogue from scratch. I'd still expect transcripts to worth consulting as part of the writing process, though.

What you think of my exercise? ;-)

I think it would lead to more accurate personality tests, among other things. ;)

Seriously, I realized after taking one personality test that I would have responded completely differently to a question if it had said "walking" rather than "driving," and the question was about something entirely unrelated to modes of transportation. (It was something like comfort in trying new things, or comfort with visual maps vs. verbal directions.) Oops?

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-04T05:32:41.003Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. I hadn't envisioned them being present, but I may have misunderstood the ongoing nature of these things. If they aren't present, key details might be changed, and so on, to preserve anonymity. I was also imagining that this exercise would be done privately, rather than on a stage in front of lots of people -- although that would be flexible.

Reusing earlier exercises isn't essential to my idea, so that could be changed, and made-up dialogue used instead.

However... I think that one of the issues with all of these exercises is going to be making sure that the students mentally connect these exercises to other areas of their lives, and apply the skill in real life. A lot of the ideas suggested here sound good, but they sound too much like games, and not enough like people actually sound when they fail to be specific in real life. I liked the "mission statement" idea for the same reason.

Comment by stefie_k on SotW: Be Specific · 2012-04-03T22:00:31.880Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hi! I've been lurking for a bit.

It looks to me like one thing that would help would be to get the people you're teaching to get frustrated enough to spontaneously say "Be specific!" on their own. If you can get them to associate a feeling of frustration with certain situations, the emotional reaction could reinforce the cognitive skills they're developing.

Specific scenarios can be based off of actual conversations like the one Eliezer presented in his post. Here's an example, based on Eliezer's example:


Sample Exercise:

The student must decide whether to invest in Company X or MixPanel. They will be investing $1 million of their company's money in one (and only one) of them; their only choice is which. They must be prepared to justify this decision to their boss, or they will be fired (and possibly have to deal with a lawsuit? Try to ramp up consequences).

Have a "boss" be there to help steer the conversation if the student is too happy with something unspecific. For the most part, though, the boss will be silent, and perhaps look unhappy.

The "entrepreneur" (now a teacher, not a student) speaks as though s/he really wants the student to invest in Company X. However, s/he is never specific. The exact language is taken/adapted from the recording of the original exercise.

In order to make sure that this exercise isn't derailed by focusing on money than by the actual difference between the companies' products, the boss can point out that even if the funding and/or number of customers is good now, that is not guaranteed to continue, and that they need information on what exactly makes the two companies' products different, and Company X's product better.


I would provide some scripted language, but there isn't enough continuous dialogue in the post for me to do much more than copy and paste it here.

Exercises like this could be designed from scratch, but if there are enough recordings of actual situations like the one Eliezer used, that could be more efficient, and quite possibly more realistic. Ironically but usefully, this approach to designing specific exercises of this type is made easier by the apparent disconnect between what the student-entrepreneur said and what Paul and Harj were asking. If there's usually a disconnect, then that makes it easier for a script to fit a conversation being directed by a student-investor, and it won't sound much less natural than the original situation.

One issue with this is that you would need to make sure that the scenario in the exercise doesn't match up too closely with the student's own background. In the example that Eliezer posted, for instance, an example involving software solutions would be a bad choice for the entrepreneur-student, because he'd be too used to hearing unspecific explanations and solutions of that particular type, and might well not recognize them as a problem. This requirement would mean that a lot of scenarios would need to be written (in order to ensure enough variety), and that people would need to be matched up with the particular scenario they'd be put in.

What do you think? I could also try to come up with from-scratch scenarios, but my ideas had a tendency to be vague in a way that's different from how people would realistically be vague. This exercise is much more useful if people seem sincerely not-specific, rather than trying to be not-specific, both because it avoids the impression that this is just a game (and therefore possibly not something to be frustrated by), and because realistic scenarios make it easier to recognize these situations in real life.