Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Is Our Assembly Learning?

by Tom Bozzo

Speaking of area Republicans who are embarassments to their districts, it would be remiss to fail to mention perennial University of Wisconsin system critic Rep. Steve Nass. He discovered that a couple of UW-Madison professors were studying fantasy sports leagues — can't they just stand around the water cooler like everyone else? — and the Pol-O-Matic 2000 (R edition) spat out (via the Cap Times):

"On the same day that system leaders are trying to convey a message of doom and gloom over a 3 percent increase in state funding, the folks over at UW-Madison promote the concept of sifting and winnowing' by announcing research into one of the greatest dilemmas of our time -- fantasy baseball," Nass said in a written statement.

"The people running the UW System really ought to consider taking some of this material and piloting a television sitcom."

Tuition and taxes should not be raised to fund "intellectual farces," Nass added.

That's telling 'em, Steve. Uh, wait, HQ asks what actual researcher Eric Halverson says:
Noting the state legislator's criticism, Halverson pointed out that the fantasy league research is not funded by taxpayers. It is financed with part of a $1.8 million grant from the prestigious MacArthur Foundation for a group of UW-Madison digital literacy researchers organized through the UW System's Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab.
Oh, so that's the kind of "intellectual farce" that brings big chunks of non-taxpayer money into the university system to (partly) offset funding cuts pushed by punk-ass Republicans! In fact, it turns out that you can learn from fantasy sports leagues:
"My son learned about sample size and statistical formulas, but did not know how to apply that outside statistics class. With fantasy baseball, he had to calculate the impact of any given player on a team's performance. A guy could have really good statistics, but if he doesn't play that much, he is not that valuable," Halverson said.
Yeah, but surely spending valuable class time on fantasy football is stoopid, eh? (*)

The researchers don't want kids to play fantasy sports in school, he stressed, but they do want to help transfer the same type of engagement and interaction that happens in the leagues to math classes in middle school, high school and college nationally.

"The commitment you see in these virtual spaces is noticeably absent from most middle schools," Halverson commented.

Well, never mind.

This would all be funnier if the Republican-controlled state Assembly weren't advancing the backdoor privatization of the UW system. Dave Zweifel opens:
I hope the Republicans who control the state Assembly were just playing silly political games last week when they voted to slash a host of state programs for the most vulnerable among us and then lopped off a crippling $120 million from the University of Wisconsin budget.
Well, some of them probably are serious, since the likes of Nass who get half of their votes from famously wingnutty Waukesha County (**) have safe seats until they tell someone that collecting taxes may be justified for some public purposes and get drubbed out of the service from the right. Still, Zweifel is right on in pointing out, on a level even George W. Bush (or, rather, his advisors) would be smart enough to at least pay lip-service to, that a healthy university system is good for the business climate.
Don't these Republican representatives read newspapers or listen to the news? Don't they know that the University of Wisconsin is one of the state's biggest economic engines? Are they oblivious to the Madison campus positioning itself to be a national center of the biotech industry? Can't they see that, as a result of the UW's activities, more businesses are being started that promise to bring more tax revenue and higher salaried workers to Wisconsin? Don't they know that to cut vital funding at this time will deliver a body blow to all of that?
Zweifel suggests the answer is no, but the better question is, "Do they care?" If we're no dumber than Minnesotans, maybe they should.

Also: Paul Soglin explains why employers maybe shouldn't be so quick to say "get back to work" to their fantasy sports leaguers. (Though a back-door Excel training argument wouldn't cut it in our shop.) Thanks to Barry in the comments.

(*) Though there may have been a missed opportunity to brand this research in a manner that exploits local Packers fandom for a more positive reaction.

(**) And hey, the new Madison Apple Store means one less reason to drive through y'all's exurban hell-on-earth.

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Soglin confesses fantasy baseball helped him learn what Excel can do, saving his employer millions:

Hell on earth? Waukesha County is home to the most genuinely wonderful people I've ever met.
I'm not talking about the people -- it's the faceless suburbia/exurbia.
Nope, he was right the first time...hell on earth...
They can take Jim Sensenbrenner (please!), but that's my clarification and I'm sticking to it. Not that there wasn't information to be gained from the use of a term like "y'all's" in the footnote.
Middleton, anyone?
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