This is quite a good six-part (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) symposium on Declan Smithies's The Epistemic Role of Consciousness (it's also the closest I'll get to reading the book, since at $85 a pop, it's beyond my budget). The main argument is that phenomenal consciousness in humans it has causal powers and functions; as Tony Cheng summarizes, "phenomenal consciousness has a unique function in us. To put it bluntly, it makes justification and knowledge possible, and its role cannot be replaced by any other things." Or in other words, "Smithies argues that perception must have a certain kind of presentational force in order to play the justifying role." But what makes that 'force' more than just a transcendental inference on the part of the author? The six critics, each in their own way, nibble at the edges of the thesis, and for my part, they help me see the weaknesses not of perception but of representationalist theories of justification and belief generally.
It's an old argument: free tuition is just a drop in the bucket. We are told it actually creates conditions of greater need (a recent Chronicle article argues that it would increase the number of unsuccessful applicants to university). So, gee, why would we even bother then? But this article sort of hints at what free tuition actually means. By saying things like "students need more than just tuition assistance to pursue higher education" it suggests that when a college or university's mandate includes everyone, and not just paying customers, its approach to providing service changes. They have to think about the needs of students who would never have entered academia in the first place. They have to make resources accessible to everyone, not just the big spenders. They have to think of 'class time' on a 24 hour clock, not just 8 to 5. That have to think of 'the campus' as their entire service area, not just the buildings where their staff are located. And, but by bit, after the tuition barrier falls, the rest of the costs begin to fall as well, because the excuses are gone, and the institution is forced to focused on service, not self.
The funny thing about AI ethics (as I muse aloud after reading this article) is that so much of the focus is on the tool and the data, when so little of it has anything to do with that. Oh, sure, AI models need to be consistent and fair, and the AI team should be deep and diverse. But still, corrupt governments and companies will still use AI to spread propaganda, and rich people will continue to ignore diseases of the poor, and armies will still use AI to target the enemy. I keep waning to say that our AI will only be as ethical as we are, and people keep finding ways to argue around this basic truth.
In the early days of online learning we had person-to-person email and chat (like ICQ or IRC) and that was about it. It was immediate and direct, but it was tiring and hard to keep up, so we latched on to alternatives like mailing lists and discussion boards. We're going through a similar phase with millions of new users and video chat. As this article describes, people are experiencing Zoom fatigue and are looking toward "asynchronous collaboration tools like Miro, Trello, and others" (such as Slack and Teams). But these take some getting used to (and I find it hard even to get people to work together in a familiar environment like Google Docs). More and more, though, as people become used to the new tools, and experience online life beyond Zoom, they'll find fewer and fewer reasons to return to commuting and sharing germ-space.
Which is better, online interaction or face-to-face? Which is better, reading print or reading digital? You'd think the answer to this type of question is always "whatever you're used to" but most of the time this attractive option seems to be overlooked. And so we are treated to questionable conclusions (eg., that print is 'better') but also ad hoc rationalizations (eg., people remember where things were on the page, people are more focused on mental abstraction, ' people approach digital texts with a mindset suited to casual social media'). This even extends to comparisons of types of media, such as online conferencing, as in this article. When I read that "the face-to-face synchronous interaction generated more desirable academic learning" the only conclusion I draw is that their sample population was more experienced with face-to-face learning.
Alex Usher discusses a review of the Newfoundland and Labrador post-secondary system entitled All Hands on Deck (354 page PDF) and an annex document (32 page PDF). Since there are only two institutions, (Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) and College of the North Atlantic (CNA), he writes, "An awful lot of what passes for system-level review is telling individual campuses how to conduct their business." I think this is unfair. The specific examples Usher cites (diversity in food services at CNA and supports for Indigenous students at MUN) fall under the much wider recommendation of "creating a supportive and inclusive environment", and in the absence of such detail critics would be saying "what exactly are we supposed to do to magically 'support diversity'?"
Usher also calls for an end to the tuition fee freeze, which he explains "might have made sense when provincial coffers are flush, but with public spending in decline, it can only harm these institutions." But if provincial coffers are not flush, neither are those of individual students, and it's hard to see how students have greater resources to increase their contribution than the province does. You can't just make up a decline in provincial funding by raising fees; it's a false economy that ends up hurting both institutions and students in the long run.
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