Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Lines in the Sand

When going through all my assignments I realized I forgot to publish this post upon returning from break. They say better late than never.
Throughout high school, I had good relationships with my classmates and teachers. Socially it helped for me to be involved in sports, because from them I grew relationships with my peers. I think I treated most of them with respect, at least at first, and I did not have a problem having conversations with anyone. As far as high school drama, I was pretty Switzerland and managed to stay out of it, mostly. Like most other U of I students, I excelled in high school. I did not mind sharing answers to homework and did so frequently.
Though I did share answers to homework, I never gave answers on quizzes or tests. I stayed after school to talk to my teachers every day before practice so they got to know me personally. Showing interest in the material usually got me into their good graces without coming into class with apples for them. Participating in class, again, showed interest in the material no matter how boring it was. However, I was not the most obedient student, and often I would read for pleasure, talk, or do assignments for other classes, while the teacher was talking or while the room was supposed to be quiet. I am sure my teachers did not like my behavior all the time, but most times they overlooked it if I wasn’t disrupting the classroom. Perhaps my teachers were disappointed with what I was doing, but when compared to my classmates who did not seem to care whether they were a disruption or not, my behavior was often excused.
Above all else, I made sure I told the truth as much as possible, whether it would put me in trouble or not. When I did gossip, I told one story with facts that did not change, though the details were sometimes exaggerated. When my teacher asked if I was talking, and I was, I admitted it. If I wasn’t, I would say that I was not, but no matter how much they pried, I would never say who was talking. When confronted, I told the truth, but I was not always transparent and honest. Most times I did not feel like I was cashing in with my social capital, but my reputations with others certainly placed me in favorable positions.
One day, in my Engineering class while we were testing CO2 cars, Adam, a friend of mine, and me argued about whose car would have the faster time. Adam tended to be disruptive in our normal class periods. My teacher, Mrs. Ellis had one rule that she strictly enforced; we could not curse in her class. Adam and I are passionate people, to say the least, and while we were arguing Adam cursed first, though I do not remember what he said. Mrs. Ellis had been setting up CO2 cars, and did not respond to what was said. I had been responding, but I had not cursed until I said, “My car is going to beat the crap out of yours, man.” I did not say crap or man. At which point, Adam made sure to bring this to my teacher’s attention, saying something to the tune of her favorite student cursed. At first, Mrs. Ellis turned and asked my classmates for confirmation, but they said they did not know. It was an obvious lie. I am going to simulate the conversation using quotes for simplicity and flow, but I do not remember exact quotes. She had pulled me aside for this.
“Your friend says that you cursed. Is that true?”
“True that he said I cursed or true that I cursed?”
“That you cursed.”
“Yes, I did. Once.”
“I heard two from you. You know I don’t allow that other word in my class.”
“I don’t think you’re at liberty to govern where that word should be used, but I did curse still.”
“Did Adam curse?”
“I’m not at liberty to say. You would probably know better than me.”
“Ok. Come see me after class.”

It seemed like I got in trouble to my peers. I stayed for a few minutes after class and there was no consequence. She told me not to do it again. The normal punishment for my behavior was a detention. In hindsight, there is no way she did not hear what was said, from either of us, but somehow, we both were not disciplined. The next day, Adam and another student were cursing and they both got detentions. This happened a few other times that school year. I continued to have a good relationship with my teacher, Adam, and the rest of my classmates. I’m not sure how many situations there are where a relationship is totally cashed in. The idea seems movie-like. However, one thing I learned was that telling the truth and standing your ground is powerful.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Grand Finale

I haven’t taken too many Econ classes, but I have gotten more applicable knowledge in this one compared to my others. In one way or another, most days we discussed self-interest, whether it was through moral hazard, contracting, opportunistic behavior, teamwork, or insurance. I have a habit of assigning goodness and badness to behaviors that I respectably agree with or disagree with. When I was younger, my friends and I would idealistically debate about what we would do if we were president, professing how we would save the world, but it isn’t that easy. This course encouraged me to reflect on my past experiences in leadership, and how much “ugly” was there. The world is uglier than I grew up perceiving it. I valued the truth being told and a blind, tenacious commitment to teamwork more than I do now.
People do what they thing is best for them/their families.  I think it was good that we did not use the word “lie,” and instead had to substitute it with “strategically misrepresent preferences.” Lying implies intent and an evil connotation, but misrepresentation can be accidental and honest. Many adults do not tell the truth about Santa Claus, but to say that they are lying about this character’s existence is strong and out of place.
Horseshoe seating made the class more informal, but it seemed to benefit the discussion. I found the in-class discussions to be insightful, though they were often dull. Questions were posed in unclear or tricky ways and I found myself trying to avoid a trap that was or was not there. Also, there were only about 6-9 people that contributed to the conversations, which I found disappointing for a small class with 20+ students enrolled. I am sure the vagueness of some questions kept others from participating, but I think some of it also came from the fear of being wrong. Often teachers/professors do not directly say that a student is wrong, but instead say “Does anyone want to help them out?” I find that behavior to be destructive because it isn’t clear, but it is normalcy. I think students are used to being coddled in that way, so when they are afraid of being wrong in front of people, they don’t take chances. I do not know how to remedy this, because forced participation, from my experience, creates an environment for undeveloped, well-thought out responses, hence lowering the quality of discussion. Also, having a greater audience, or mandatory attendance, could make this stage fright worse.

As far as blogging, I didn’t mind taking chances because no one wants to read the same thing said in different ways. Also, I am unmotivated to write about things that do not directly affect my life. Normally blog posts take me between 90-120 minutes. I spend about 30 of them brainstorming my topic and outlining the structure, then I spend the rest of the time filling in the blanks and tying my points together at the sentence level. The blog posts tied well to the in-class discussions, but did not connect with Excel homework, apart from the Prisoner’s Dilemma matrix that I made about teamwork.  I think it is okay for those two not to be related, but it would have certainly helped to go over some of the math in class. Having videos at our disposal helps, but it does not beat in-class instruction. Students may be bored, but if the math was covered more in class, I think people would be more willing to go to class. Otherwise, I found the math to be relatively intuitive, though I was challenged. The books, though supplementary, were not necessary to class discussions, blog posts, or the Excel homeworks, but they were expensive. I feel like I wasted a huge chunk of money since they were described as necessary, but weren’t for 13 weeks. All in all, I am glad that I took this course, and I feel like I got my money’s worth. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Big Brother

To me, it seems like diplomats and negotiators are inclined  to face a triangular principal- agent dilemma. As the eldest child, I served as an agent for my parents when it came to accomplishing tasks around the house. When I was in 6th grade and my sister was in 3rd grade, my parents bought me a pre-paid flip phone so they could communicate with my sister and me to help with the coordination rides to and from sporting events. Presumably, they also wanted to teach me to be responsible and allow me what a lot of my friends had, a cell phone. Both of my parents had recently earned promotions at their jobs and were home less during the day. They expected me to be able to convince my sister to chores and act as their voice, but my word did not hold the same weight as theirs. At the same time, I was still a child and the agent for my sister and me. I was rarely ever able to convince my parents that their requests were unreasonable, but from time to time I could reduce the amount of work that we had to do, which made my sister and I better off in those moments.
My sister was (is) really lazy. My dad often called about an hour before he left work, telling me a few things that he would want us to do before he got home. Usually it was preparation for whatever he wanted to cook. In the beginning, I split the work evenly because I thought that was the fairest thing to do. I was honest with my sister about everything that my father said and she waited until the last possible moment to do everything. I ended up doing a lot of her work because I knew that if she didn’t do her half, I would be held responsible.  The next few times, not only did I split the responsibilities unevenly, but also, I gave myself less jobs. Eventually, my sister caught on to me doing the less time consuming jobs, so she complained to me and threatened to tell our parents.
 Again, I had to change my strategy, because I didn’t want to do more work or have my parents find out that I was doing less. Next, I started understating to my sister how much time was left until my father got home. She still waited until what she thought was the last minute, but she could get it done without my help because she had extra time. After a while, she realized that I was giving her less time than she had, so she just started doing things later. I complained about her behavior to her, but did not report it to my parents. Sometimes when my parents weren’t home, I would go over my friends’ houses, which was against their orders. I feared that if I told on my sister, she would tell on me.
Even though I was unhappy, I was participating in an unspoken quid pro quo agreement with my sister. If I did more work, she stayed quiet. In this situation, my parents were the ultimate authority, but I found myself better off by being in cahoots with my sister. Both my sister and I were faced with moral hazard, and I think we found ourselves in a repeated prisoner’s dilemma as well. It would be simpler to report each other’s “illegal” behaviors to our parents, but we wouldn’t be able to do what we wanted as much. Also, more strict rules would have been placed upon us if we told on each other, making us both worse off. The illusion of fairness regarding chore allocation was all that my parents needed, so as we grew older, my sister and I resolved issues of shirking on our own, even after we both got cell phones.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Preemptive Measures

I am in a Poetry/Spoken Word RSO and the main source of conflict comes from member attendance, or lack thereof. Every semester, we have a concert, and there are limited amounts of slots for pieces. Simply put, a piece is a poem read theatrically. The name of the RSO is WORD, and we normally meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8PM-10PM at the SDRP. The organizational structure contains an executive board with ascending power levels, with a Historian, FundRaising Chair, Publicity Chair, Secretary, Vice President, President. I do not know all the responsibilities of each responsibilities; general members have a lot of power in some situations and less in others. For examples, general members have no power over the workshops or writing technique practices that we explore when we meet. The themes for our concert are usually thought of by the e-board, and they give four or five options which the general body gets to elect democratically, where everyone has equal voting power. The only time that the eboard has more voting power than general members is when voting for the next eboard, and their votes each count as two general member votes. From the stance of a general member, the structure of WORD is hierarchal, but flat.
Concerts for WORD are popular, and the crowd varies between 200 and 250 people, and they normally take place about a month before finals, and concert prep usually starts about a month before. For some people, this does not interfere with schoolwork, but when taking higher credit loads or difficult classes. Committing 4 hours a week, not including time spent writing or memorizing the piece for rehearsal and transporting to and from the meeting place, is a feat. Members of WORD do not need to perform or be in the concert, but most do by choice. Most pieces are performed in groups that require coordination, which is what the Tuesday and Thursday meetings are for. Hence, it can be difficult to make progress when there is at least one group member who is unable to make it to meetings.
Early in the semester when it’s warm, school has a new car smell; it’s fun and exciting, but after riding through the school year, you realize some of the parts of your ride break down. Instead of taking the time to study, students procrastinate and don’t perform well. This happens to seasoned students, but this especially happens to students new to college who do not know what to expect, as far as their workloads. Often in WORD, new members are ambitious and to participate, not knowing how much of a time commitment they are signing up for. This results in people being upset toward each other for not being at rehearsal at the allotted time.
WORD breeds a lot of friendships, and this makes it difficult for people to bring up something that bothers them. People don’t want to call out their friends for not being there, which can make the problem worse. Early in the preparation process this isn’t much of a problem, people can exchange team members in and out, but this is not easy because concerts prep must begin close enough to the concert so people can write their pieces, but far away enough so that people can memorize what they have. Also, if the concert is too close to finals, everyone is worse off.

This problem is not completely resolved. However, all people who participate in the concert must sign a contract saying that they cannot miss more than X number of meetings without being at risk of having their part cut out of the concert. In theory, this sounds efficient, but this does not account for excused absences, if those should even exist. Normally, when the member communicates that they have something important that they need to attend, the absence is excused. From my experience, this hasn’t been abused, but there is no explicit barrier against it. As discussed in class, it seems the best way to fix this problem is before it occurs, and the intuitive way to do so is contracting. However, there is no third-party that can effectively evaluate the situation and be fair. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Sense of Self

The goal of students is often to do well in courses, where performance is measured by letter grade. In cases where students are enrolled in many courses, it becomes more difficult to be focused on each individual course. Grades are meant to act as metrics for gauging student understanding, but does not always accomplish its goal. Group projects have varying dynamics; some of which promote gift exchange, while others condone opportunism. I have not been in many groups where other members were averse to contributing to the group’s success, but when it did happen, the situation was far from desirable. At least partially, the amount of effective teamwork that occurs in a group project is dependent upon the rules for the assignment and the punishment(s) for poor performance/engagement.  David Brooks’ “The Power of Altruism” is complicated when modeling academic group behavior. When considering the conditions of college classes and perceived life after school, where good grades lead to better job/grad school opportunities, the threat of opportunism is too strong for there not to be punishment for lack of contribution. The issue with punishing someone is determining where to draw the line between slacking and participation.
Throughout this post, I will discuss four, unique group project situations. The project is a group paper, like the one that we have been assigned.  The class has 30 students. Each group has three students. Two of the groups have a non-participating/poorly participating group member, who I will call a BAD APPLE. Two of the groups have specialized grading for each member. These four cases are oversimplified, and do not contain all of the possible outcomes, since participation is hard to evaluate. In many situations, I would imagine it is an inefficient use of time to try to determine who contributed to what and how much. Also, to simplify the table, each group with a BAD APPLE only has one, whereas in real life there is no limit. This model also assumes that BAD APPLES have faith in the other group members to get the assignment completed.
Case 1: Everyone gets the same grade. Everyone participates.
Case 2: Everyone gets the same grade. Some groups have a BAD APPLE.
Case 3: Each member gets a specialized grade. Everyone participates.
Case 4: Each member gets a specialized grade. Some groups have a BAD APPLE.
Same Grade. No bad apple.
Same Grade. BAD APPLE
Specialized Grade. No bad apple.
Specialized Grade. BAD APPLE.

Thought I have never graded anything in a university setting, I assume Case 1 is the easiest to grade, because in this case, only ten projects need grading. The students do not mind that they are receiving the same grade as their group members because everyone contributes. The students perform better because they collaborate and form a more cohesive paper. This is not to say that the groups are satisfied with their grades, but instead that they believe that it was okay to grade them as a group. This represents an ideal equilibrium, where both the professor and student are better off.
Case 2 describes a situation where the students who wants to do well in the course the most will complete the assignment. The fully-participating group members must make up for the less active member, broadening the division of labor, and creating a poorer paper than groups who did not have a BAD APPLE. The grader still has ten projects. The students may be disgruntled, which may lead to poorer evals. This situation is unlikely.
Case 3 describes a waste of the professor’s time, but it could also lead to a waste of time for the students. Specialized grading requires a means to evaluate the contribution of each group member, which is more trouble than it’s worth in this scenario, encouraging students to spend their time inefficiently. Also, following the idea of “The Power of Altruism,” students may act selfishly, and focus on their own portion of the paper, as opposed to making it cohesive, lowering the quality of the assignment.
Case 4 describes a catch all scenario, where those who slack are caught, and those that perform well are rewarded. The professor is worse off since they have to grade 30 students on 10 assignments. The students are possibly worse off if they act selfishly, which, following “The Power of Altruism,” is expected. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Major Decisions

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “80% of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once.” Also, “on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. I thought I was a part of the 20% minority that stuck to their initial major. In retrospect, I realize this was not the only factor that affected my decision to come to U of I as a Chemistry major who was trying to transfer into Chemical Engineering. Not only did I switch out of Chemistry, but I ended up switching to General Studies, then to Economics. I imagine that other students who change their majors go through similar experiences as it relates to their collegiate journey.
I am from New Jersey, so Illinois is a long way from home. I did not want to go to college around where I grew up, because I thought that it would limit my potential growth. I figured that I would naturally hang around people that I was comfortable with, or were comfortable with me, so I would be distracted from my studies. Attending a university where I would be forced to meet new people did not help me focus, as I thought it would, but it did force me to exit my comfort zone.
My parents had, and still have, the ultimate power in where/if I go to college, especially at a relatively expensive school. I had the illusion of choice, which prompted me to, at times, strategically misrepresent my preferences. Deep down, I had reservations regarding what major I would have. If I could go back, I would have tried to figure out what career path I wanted, as opposed to choosing a major based upon which subjects I excelled at in school.
Though I did not always think about it this way, many of my decisions regarding college were morally hazardous. I was afraid to say that I did not know what I wanted to do; that was the truth, but I did not want to stay home for a semester. All of my friends were going to school. My parents always expected me to go into college the fall after I graduated from high school. I never felt like I had much of a choice regarding my future. Also, I knew that ultimately my parents held all of the cards, which in this case manifested as dollars, so it was their choice; I just had to convince them that going far away aligned with their priorities. Countless times they asked me if I was sure that Chemical Engineering was what I wanted to do, but I could not show that I would sometimes waiver in what major I chose. I assumed that they would have discredited my interest and made me go to school somewhere cheaper and closer, since I was not absolutely sure.
I thought I wanted to do Chemical Engineering, because I researched new technologies in my spare time and I wanted to bring new tech into the classroom, sports, and day to day life. Also, I wanted to make a lot of money, and I knew that STEM fields would get me that. I didn’t think that my parents would be okay with me not choosing a major outside of STEM, presumably because they wanted me to be financially well off. U of I has a renowned Chemical Science program and it was far away, which aligned with my interests.
            My father works in IT, and he has a lot of passion for what he does, so I figured computer science would be interesting to everyone. Also, I just really did not want to transfer. I did not do well after my first year, and I grew to hate the way Chemistry was taught, so I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps in the Fall of my Sophomore year. Correspondingly, I transferred into LAS-General Studies so I did not have to pay the extra fees that Chemistry majors do. I would still be able to get what I want in going to school out of state, but also my parents approved of U of I’s STEM programs, so I had their blessing. After taking only one CS class, I learned that it was not for me, and that my happiness was most important in my career. I didn’t want to hate my life, even if it meant sacrificing future income.
            The second semester of my sophomore, I had chosen Economics instead, because I could finish the major in 5 semesters, and I figured I could still be on the cutting edge of technology, even if it was in a different way. I didn’t know that much about the major, aside from 103 which I thoroughly enjoyed; it was a leap of faith. If I could go back, I would have coupled Econ with English or Political Science. It’s never too late to educate oneself, but I have a 4-year deadline to graduate.
Even though I did better and better academically each semester, I found myself having to prove that I was where I needed to be in my life. I cannot quite explain this intuition, in order to follow my hunch, I had to pander toward my parents’ interests to convince them that this was right for me. There was no way they would accept my “intuition,” which led to me never telling the truth about why I wanted to stay at U of I.

** ** ** ** **

            In this post, I wanted to work on telling a story that could be understood by other people. The point I was trying to get across is that sometimes it seems natural to misrepresent reality for what we want. I think I may have failed to connect the passages directly to the course. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Mirror to the Past

Even though only two of them ended up being about sports, I thought to write about sports for just about every post. Sports organizations, especially from high school, are easy to analyze since they were some of my first experiences within organizations. From what I have read, other students tended to write, especially in older posts, about high school, presumably because they have already been thought about. Also, as a senior in college, I have already thought in depth about what happened. It’s easier for me to see what caused some of the issues that we ran into after time has passes.
Sports are often common experiences amongst people. Most people who I interact with have experiences with a high school sport, band, or club that competes against other schools. When people discuss jobs, or other organizations not associated with high school, they have to explain some of the inner workings of their positions, whereas with high school sports, we know that there is a coach (manager), other players (coworkers), and normally a clearly defined goal (winning). There exceptions to these rules; some teams may be more or less hierarchal or may have a plan to not lose, but these exceptions come with the aforementioned assumptions.
When explaining an organization that is unfamiliar with outside people, it’s difficult to choose what information is critical to their understanding of it. In other posts that I have read, I do not feel like I have enough information of the situation to connect with their experiences. In my post about my business venture, I found myself finding ways to make two sentences out of a concept that may take me three paragraphs. I would rather not write a thousand-word blog post, and I do not think my classmates would like to do the same. As far as my writing structure, I find it helpful to outline what I plan on writing about before I do it. Usually the outline is only about 100 words, but it helps get my thoughts in order and have a flow that another person can understand. When I do a brain dump, my points can get convoluted. I wrote countless papers and I am especially interested in Marxism in literature, so I tended to keep that hat on in my previous posts. Recently, I have been trying to link the prompts to classroom discussions and recent experiences within organizations.
Furthermore, I tend to write about the inefficiencies of past organizations, as opposed to efficiencies. I may just be seeing the glass as have empty, but at times, it seems like a waste to focus on the positives. In theory, it’s good to give the positive things and the negative things equal attention, because knowing both may yield a more objective interpretation of the organization. Also, most of my posts discuss instances of the problem of motivation. Different people are motivated by different things, and it is always a challenge to change my technique depending up the situation. In the moment, it is far more difficult to determine what will or won’t work than retrospectively.
 By incorporating the positives of organizational situations, readers will get a wider scope of the orgs I present. For example, on my basketball team, there was a time at the end of each Saturday practice for people to discuss problems that we were having. At times, conversations got heated, and even as a captain, I found myself frustrated and aggressively expressing my emotions. Our team had three captains, and I was the “nice one”, so when I got upset it seemed to mean a lot. Everything that players brought up did not get incorporated in our day to day operation, but at least everyone knew how everyone else felt. As a teenager, it taught me that I had to speak up when something bothered me, because otherwise it could go unaddressed and make me feel worse.

Most people that I see in class seem to be involved in at least one organization, and if they are not, I am sure they have feelings about UofI or Illinois politics. I would not mind a prompt where people discuss how the organizations that they are a part of affect their college experiences.