Tag Archives: reputation

It’s tiring look at yourself

Picture of the authorFor many people Zoom fatigue is very real. It has been studied by Jeremy Bailenson at Stanford University [see ‘‘Zoom fatigue’ brought into focus by Stanford study‘ in the FT on February 26th, 2021]. He found that one source of tiredness was the high level of self-evaluation that arises from continually having to look at a video of yourself. Of course, it is easy to fix by choosing not to display your own video on your screen. We all have two egos: one is our subjectivity or the physical sensations registered by our body via our senses; and, the other is our reputation or the reflection of ourselves which forms our social identity [see ‘A reflection on existentialism‘ on December 20th, 2017]. Gloria Orrigi describes this second self as not a simple reflection but one that is ‘warped, amplified, redacted and multiplied in the eyes of others’. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that being constantly exposed to the view of ourselves being seen by others over a video conference raises our level of fatigue as we subconsciously and constantly review the impression being made on others. Orrigi describes our reputation as being like the trail left by snails has they slither over surfaces. Our social interactions with others leave deposits in their minds that become an information trail that we cannot erase and can only partially control. The pandemic has forced many of our social interactions to be via the internet which means they also leave electronic trails over which we have little control and cannot erase; however, we probably worry less about these traces than we do those left in the minds of others. Perhaps that is why our conversations lack spontaneity when conducted via a Zoom call [see ‘Distancing ourselves from each other‘ on January 13th, 2021] or maybe it’s just because it’s very difficult to gossip on a video conference even using the ‘chat’ function. Robin Dunbar has suggested that the real reason language evolved in humans is to allow us to gossip and thus maintain the social cohesion. If we are suffering from a loss of social cohesion caused by a lack of gossip then it is likely our stress levels would be raised causing us further fatigue. So, maybe we should be picking up our phones and calling people for a chat instead of scheduling meetings on Zoom.

The picture is the photograph of me that others see when I switch off my camera in an internet call.  It’s a selfie with which I am happy, for the moment anyway.

Sources:

Robin Dunbar, Grooming, gossip and the evolution of language, London: Faber and Faber, 1996.

Gloria Origgi, Reputation: what it is and why it matters, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

 

Puzzles and mysteries

Detail from abstract by Zahrah ReshPuzzles and mysteries are a pair of words that have taken on a whole new meaning for me since reading John Kay’s and Mervyn King’s book called ‘Radical uncertainty: decision-making for an unknowable future‘ during the summer vacation [see ‘Where is AI on the hype curve?‘ on August 12th, 2020]. They describe puzzles as well-defined problems with knowable solutions; whereas mysteries are ill-defined problems, that have no objectively correct solution and are imbued with vagueness and indeterminacy.  I have written before about engineers being creative problems-solvers [see ‘Learning problem-solving skills‘ on October 24th, 2018] which leads to the question of whether we specialise in solving puzzles or mysteries, or perhaps both types of problems.  The problems that I set for students to solve for homework to refine and evaluate their knowledge of thermodynamics [see ‘Problem-solving in thermodynamics‘ on May 6th, 2015] clearly fall into the puzzle category because they are well-defined and there is a worked solution available.  Although for many students these problems might appear to be mysteries, the intention is that with greater knowledge and understanding the mysteries will be transformed into mere puzzles.  It is also true that many real-world mysteries can be transformed into puzzles by research that advances the collective knowledge and understanding of society.  Part of the purpose of an engineering education is to equip students with the skills to make this transformation from mysteries to puzzles.  At an undergraduate level we use problems that are mysteries only to the students so that success is achievable; however, at the post-graduate level we use problems that are perceived as mysteries to both the student and the professor with the intention that the professor can guide the student towards a solution.  Of course, some mysteries are intractable often because we do not know enough to define the problem sufficiently that we can even start to think about possible solutions.  These are tricky to tackle because it is unreasonable to expect a research student to solve them in limited timeframe and it is risky to offer to solve them in exchange for a research grant because you are likely to damage your reputation and prospects of future funding when you fail.  On the other hand, they are what makes research interesting and exciting.

Image: Extract from abstract by Zahrah Resh.

Pluralistic ignorance

This semester I am teaching an introductory course in Thermodynamics to undergraduate students using a blended learning approach [see ‘Blended learning environments‘ on November 14th, 2018].  The blend includes formal lectures, example classes, homework assignments, assessed coursework questions and an on-line course, which I delivered as a MOOC a couple of years ago [see ‘Engaging learners on-line‘ on May 25th, 2016].  It is not unusual in a large class, nearly two hundred students this year, that no one asks questions during the lecture; although, at the end of each lecture and example class, a small group of students with questions always forms.  The on-line course has extensive opportunities for asking questions and discussing issues with the instructor and fellow learners.  These opportunities  were used heavily when the course was offered as a MOOC  with 6600 comments posted or 1 every 7.7 minutes!  However, this year the undergraduates have not made any on-line comments and it was a similar situation last year.  Is this a case of pluralistic ignorance?  The term was coined by psychologists Daniel Katz and Floyd Henry Allport in 1931 to describe students who pretend to understand everything explained in class and don’t ask any questions because they believe everyone else in the class has understood everything and they don’t want to damage their reputation with their peers.  Perhaps we have all done it and been very grateful when someone has asked the question that we wanted to ask but did not dare.  Would be it ethical to pretend to be a student and post questions on-line that I know from the MOOC they are likely to want to ask?

Sources:

Patterson EA, Using everyday engineering examples to engage learners on a massive open online course, IJ Mechanical Engineering Education, in press.

Katz D & Allport FH, Students’ attitude, Syracuse, NY: Craftsmann, 1931.

Origgi G, Reputation: what it is and why it matters, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Image: Author speaking at National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan