Saturday, September 30, 2006

Some funeral observations

I'm not a fan of funerals and not just for the obvious reason that they represent the fact that someone died. They are, for me anyway, often tension-filled. First, being an atheist, I struggle against the call on religion to soothe our souls in our time of distress. Second, it means dealing with family and the undercurrent of all those relationships at a time when people's emotions are running high. Under such conditions, there's a high likelihood of emotional crisis.

There was no crisis this time, but definitely some interesting moments. My father told me that at the viewing the day before, a friend of his mother's, after expressing her condolences, said, "I don't know what your politics are, but I just want you to know I think George W. Bush is an idiot."

Besides the family, there were less than 10 other people at the funeral. Mostly, this is because my granparents' friends were few and most had died in the last few years. Even some that are still alive are not in a condition to attend a funeral. My other grandmother, who died younger and also after her husband, had fewer people at her funeral as well, but more than this grandmother.

My cousins did nothing to control their rambunctious two-year old, who was rambunctious enough to make it difficult for us to hear. Me? I would have taken the child outside.

Everyone who spoke mentioned my grandmother's applesauce. My dad's entire eulogy was about applesauce (something I hope to post because it was wonderful). It was really good applesauce.

At the graveside service, my father asked me, "Do you feel any connection to these people?"

And I said no, not really. And I thought about that and about why that was. Part of it was the fact that we did not visit often. While my cousins were often together at my grandparents over holidays, my family (mostly my mother) chose to stay at home with just our immediate family. We saw my grandparents a couple of times a year, but saw my cousins only every few years. When I did see my cousins, I remember feeling left out. They all knew each other and shared stories about their time together. I also remember a couple of them teasing me mercilessly about my southern accent, the way I dressed, etc. Not exactly a bonding moment. And I am the cousin whose parents got divorced and whose sister died. I am different.

One cousin, the second oldest, named after my father, I have always liked. When I was young, he always tried to make me feel included even while the other cousins were trying to exclude me. He also used to write songs and we share a kind of creative spirit, something we both still harbor even if our lives didn't lead us to careers in those fields. He is kind and non-judgemental. And even though I don't agree with him all the time, I still respect him.

My aunts are getting older. They seem older now than they ever have.

Children do not know that death is a sad or scary thing. They run around the graveyard and pick flowers and laugh and to them it's the same as if they were in a park.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Arrived mostly unscathed

One chemical spill, a scenic detour and a huge rainstorm later, we're here.

Putting everyone else first

Mr. Geeky called last night--as he has every night since he's been gone--to check in. He asked when I was planning to leave for the funeral.

Well, I said, I have a meeting at 3 and students coming at 4, so probably not till 5:30 or 6.

Are you crazy? he said.

Well, it's the students' first paper. I feel bad.

Look, he said, you're always putting other people first. Reschedule the meeting and the conferences and leave early so you're not driving in the middle of the night.

Okay. You're right.

And then we talked about some other things and we hung up.

He was right though. I often have a tendancy to put others first, especially in a work environment. I need to stop that. For one thing, I don't think it actually benefits anyone. I get frustrated because "No one appreciates what I'm doing for them." I don't have time to be proactive and put programs in place, etc. And then I'm burned out and resentful and I don't even *want* to be proactive. It's ugly.

Actually, Mr. Geeky does this sometimes too. The difference for him, though, is that some of that has paid off--in terms of getting tenure, a nice grant, and other rewards for his hard work. But some stuff doesn't always pay off. Spending hours with students is not always rewarded. All the little administrative stuff he does, the email lists where he helps people well into the middle of the night. The thing is, we both care about our work. We care about it in selfish ways, sure, but mostly, we want to help people and we want to make a difference, whether that's locally or globally. And so we keep at it.

But sometimes, you have to let go of that and take care of yourself and your needs. You have to put your own oxygen mask on first. I need to do that more often.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Handwriting update

I'm not sure what to make of the response. It was what I expected, that this whole thing is about neatness. I hate, hate, hate the focus on neatness in grade and middle school. I mean, really, what is the point here? Okay, so neater writers do better on the SAT. That is not right. They should be graded on content and structure and sophisticated argument.

She claims that she brought up that she would be going over penmanship (specifically "how to make letters") at back to school night. I do not remember this. I remember her saying she wanted the notebooks to be neat. What's interesting is that in the email she sent me, she said that the notebooks were there to demonstrate their knowledge of the topics covered. I find this contradictory. Do perfectly shaped letters demonstrate knowledge? I can understand if the writing is illegible that maybe that would be a problem? And I can see neatness being, say, 10 points of the whole assignment, but I just have an issue with this focus on the insignificant details.

The thing is, this is a pattern in our lives. Maybe it's just my kid, but I have battled neatness issues with my son for his entire school career. He just not neat. He's not going to be neat and in five years, he'll be typing everything anyway. And I have to say that this focus on the minute details is something I struggle with in my teaching too. Students very often have been trained to focus on these things--the commas, the correct citation method, etc. It's not that the details aren't important. Certainly when you're ready to submit something for a grade or for publication, you want to cross every t and dot every i, but first you must focus on the bigger picture. And I guess I see this misplaced focus in the schools.

I sent a fairly pleasant response back, thanking her for her explanation and explaining that neither Geeky Boy nor I knew the intention behind the assignment, which I hope was a nice way of saying, "Be more clear about why you're asking students to do things." So, for now, I'm laying off, but I'm still keeping my eye on this one.

Handwriting

I've just fired off an email to Geeky Boy's social studies teacher complaining that 1) they spent two days in class practicing handwriting and 2) they had homework to practice handwriting. I said I was disappointed that she considered this 6th grade level work and asked for an explanation for why she was doing this kind of work in class and not something more substantial. I said I didn't consider handwriting a particularly important skill at this grade level (especially in social studies!)

I'm sorry, but I usually sit back and let the teachers do their jobs, but I find this egregious. I can't even begin to express my anger over the fact that someone thinks handwriting is going to help get a student into a good college! Please.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Random Bullets: Late Night Edition

  • My last grandparent died. My dad's mother, last night. This deserves more than a bullet, but that will have to wait. She was 92. The last two years of her life were not quality years.
  • I would describe parts of my life right now as being forced to wear a wool sweater when you have the chicken pox--or sunburn--whichever feels most uncomfortable. I want to take the sweater off, but then I'd be naked. And that's kind of scary.
  • I would describe other parts of my life as being on the upward slope of a roller coaster. I can feel the excitement building; it's gonna be fun. But I might also throw up.
  • Why aren't there 28 hours in a day? Seriously, just a few extra and I'd be good. I could get the laundry done, read that article I want to read, AND get some extra sleep.
  • My youngest is bored at school. Sigh.
  • My oldest was asked to write the alphabet over and over in . . . social studies.
  • I'm going to have to write to some teachers/principals. Not really looking forward to that.
  • Single parenting this week. Sigh. I miss Mr. Geeky.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I love being a geek

I love playing with technology--mostly on the software side, but hardware too.  I honestly get a thrill on the level of riding a roller coaster when I discover something new.  For example, a couple of weeks ago, I installed Parallels on my MacBook Pro on the recommendation of an equally geeky colleague (which I wrote a little bit about here). Parallels allowed me to put both Linux and Windows on my machine.  I'm writing my dissertation in OpenOffice under Linux and I'm using Windows for a handful of Windows-only applications at work and for syncing with Airset.  This weekend, my new Palm that I ordered off of Ebay arrived and I got the whole syncing the work and family calendar to work.  I got butterflies when I finally achieved this.

I've also started using Flock, with equal amounts of love and excitement.  And that's just on top of the fun I've had with the new computer itself, playing with Garageband, iTunes, the Dashboard widgets.  Any time I go to write a how-to, I always research what's new and I almost always find new cool stuff and it almost always thrills me.  Recently, for example, I've been writing about audio, which led me to using Garageband for podcasting (I'd been using Audacity).  Then someone asked me whether they should really teach their students html, and I suggested Google pages.  I've been writing about blogging as well, which led me to Flock. 

Obviously, I'm adventurous when it comes to exploring new software, but mostly I explore these things because I'm trying to solve a problem or to make some process better. I'd read about Flock on Academhack, and it does make some things much easier.  The built-in blogging tool, while not perfect, makes it so easy to drop in quotes and pictures and you can save posts for later and write in the same platform for all your blogs (maybe only an issue for me, who has like 4 blogs on 3 different blogging platforms).  Parallels plus Airset solved some of my PIM issues, still not quite perfect, but helps me accomplish much more than I could without it. And I use OpenOffice because I can save my files as pdfs and send them off to my advisor without fear that my figures will go wonky.  But, it's also true that many of these tools make it more fun to do my work. And to me, that's just as important, if not more so, as efficiency.  Shouldn't work be fun?

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Public shool debate continues

I'd like to point everyone to the discussion going on in the comments to my recent post on public education. I think my reactions to public education are complicated and probably can't be summed up in a blog post or a comment. In reality, we have pretty good schools here. They're not perfect obviously, but they'll probably be fine for our kids. The schools I went through probably weren't as good and I turned out fine. It's what you make of it, I suppose. I'm just not sure that every kid is equipped to make the best of it. And then what?

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Friday, September 22, 2006

How do you define success?

Update: In catching up with my RSS feeds, I ran into Kathy Sierra's post about success. I love Kathy Sierra. I think she says in this post exactly what I was trying to say above. That is, there appears to be only one track to "success," moving up (internally or externally). I think, however, that I'd be happier not moving up, but instead, being somehow acknowledged that I'm doing a kick-ass job. That might mean an increase in pay or taking away some of the icky crap I hate doing and replacing it with cool stuff I love doing. I'm moving in that direction, but now I have concrete ways of articulating this to people who can make that happen. Thanks, Kathy.

I'm struggling with this question right now in many areas of life. I feel pretty successful. I have a job I enjoy, a wonderful family, and my own house in a nice neighborhood. But in some ways, I don't feel successful. I haven't quite finished my Ph.D. and when I do, I'm probably not going to pursue a faculty career. If I do pursue a faculty career, it won't be tenure-track. It would be continuing non-tenure track or some such kind of position. And that feels "lesser" to me. I feel "lesser" as just a staff member, which is part of why I'm even holding the thought of full-time teaching in my head. But I think I'd just be exchanging one "lesser" with another.

Success in academia is usually defined in terms of publishing the right number of papers in the right journals. It's going to conferences and people have heard of you, read your work, or whatever. At some places, it might also be defined by teaching, with awards or good evaluations. But that's on the faculty side. What would success look like on the staff side, for someone in my position?

In some ways, I could pursue success in the same way. I could publish. I do go to conferences. I've presented at many. That feels successful. If I were in development, I might measure success in terms of how much money I bring in. In admissions, getting a good class every year or increasing enrollment. But I don't have any good measurements like that. I have personal measurements. I feel like I've accomplished a lot, contributed a lot to the institution, but kind of have nothing to show for it. I have no award, no merit raise, no tenure or promotion. And here, I have no opportunities to pursue those accolades. I must settle for the occasional pat on the back or glowing email. And those are fine, but I think I want more.

The problem is, I can't define that "more." What would more look like? A promotion? A raise? A new position? I'm not sure. I can't get Chaucer's Miller's Wife out of my head. What do women want? What does this woman want? And I think the Miller's Wife has a point. Authority would be a good thing. Maybe.

And yet, most of the time, I'm perfectly content. Maybe I'm just having a "the grass is greener" moment where other opportunities or changing things in my current situation looks better than the status quo. Maybe I'm just getting greedy.


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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lack of curiosity

When I think about what it means to be involved in education, I think primarily about curiosity. I think one should continually be curious about the world around you. One should always want to ask, "What's new?" and then go find out. Coupled with this curiosity is imagination. I think of education as coming up with new ways of looking at old things, of coming up with entirely new things, of rethinking the way we do things. That all requires imagination.

What I sometimes find, however, is a lack of these two things, especially when it comes to technology. There are lots of reasons for this, most of them institutional. I don't know of any field, aside from Computer Science perhaps, where technology is integrated in a way where faculty just simply naturally think about it as they are planning their classes. It's always an afterthought. This, then, leads to a lack of imagination in implementation. How can you possibly come up with something truly interesting and innovative at the last minute? I'll give you an example. I suggested to a professor, someone who is technically savvy and pretty imaginative, that he use Flickr for a class that was image-heavy. He wanted a way for students to comment on photos they had taken and posted to a web site. Now I give him credit for asking, but this was the second week of class before we were having this conversation. And although I explained that Flickr allowed you to comment, even put sticky notes right on the image and if you want, you can close off your collection just to your students, you can do that too. But there wasn't time to demonstrate or come to the class and show how it worked or any of that.

I think I can partly blame myself for this. I don't always reach out before the semester and suggest such things and I think I'll do more of that. I'm currently writing the "Alphabet Soup" of technology for educators on my other blog. That has actually generated some response so far.

Another problem is that faculty, I realize, do not have time to do some of these things. It takes time to set up a Flickr account, perhaps set up a pool for students to work with, write documentation for that. It takes time to make video clips, to think about blogging, to make your Blackboard site more than just a document repository. I know, because I do these things for my own single class and it takes time. And there's no reward, no guarantee of success, and the chance that one will be humilated in front of the class and fail miserably.

Many of the faculty at my institution come from places overflowing with staff and resources. Harvard, for example, has about 12 people on its instructional technology team alone. Yale has 16. Stanford has about 30 (too many for me to count quickly). Most of those places, too, have liaisons for each department and separate out work on classroom/research activities from basic technology needs like email, word processing, etc. For basic support, there's another team of 15 or 20. At these places, a faculty member comes in the semester before and says, "I want an interactive site for anthropology 101" and the site magically appears. Or I want these 100 images scanned and put into a nice powerpoint presentation and voila, it's done. So, naturally, many of them expect the same kind of service when they arrive at our institution. But alas, with one person as a full-time instructional technologist and who also handles general web and technology issues from both faculty and staff, that service is simply not possible.

Would I like to provide that kind of service? Not really. I personally think there's value in doing some of these things yourself. First, you know the material and the best way to present it. Reimagining it in digital form often makes you rethink the way you present the material. I've heard from colleagues who work at these larger institutions that sometimes the projects they create are never used or are used once and discarded. I'm guessing that if you create or help create a project yourself, you will use it. Often, too, if you're just producing digital material from analog versions that have been dropped off, there's never an opportunity to have a conversation about the best way to use the digital material or ways to make it flexible and fit different situations and classes. And there's just that lack of curiosity and imagination again; there's no desire to learn how these things work, how they could transform teaching.

I think most people associate technology with a kind of dystopia where curiosity and imagination have been stripped away. And maybe in the 80s and early 90s when the focus was automation and "making life easier." And maybe that vision of technology still exists now. And it's hard to get beyond that when much of what I and my department end up doing involves the nuts and bolts end of things instead of the fun, imaginative end of things. For me, technology, especially web technologies is all about creativity and imagination, of connecting and "talking" to people, of seeing things in new ways, of words converted to image, of image converted to words, of infinite possibility. Maybe people are afraid of that infinite possibility or maybe, conversely, they feel constrained and hemmed in by technology instead of feeling free to pursue a different path. I wish that more people would be more curious about technology instead of fearful of it. Unfortunately, I may be able to teach them how to use something, suggest possibilities, but I think it's beyond my job duties to instill a sense of curiosity. But I'll keep trying anyway.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Stop this crazy thing!

Yesterday began at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m. It was crazy. It still feels like the rush of the beginning of school. It's not supposed to be this way. I managed to slow down enough to enjoy my class, which was really fun yesterday. I think we're finally getting to know each other.

But I can't think. I can barely string together a complete sentence and that's so not fun. Words are my thing. Losing them. Not good.

I have to ask, those of you who are profs and parents, how painful is it for you to listen to curriculum discussions at the elementary or middle school level? After parent night last night, I was seriously considering home schooling. Listening to the way writing was taught pained me. And social studies? Oh. My. FSM. The teacher has an "inside track" on Iraq because she's got three family members stationed there. Hellooo. Can we say one sided? Ugh. I guess I'll just have to encourage Geeky Boy to think outside the box and to argue back. Sigh.

And the other thing that just freaks me out. The structure of it all. So rigid. And I'm sitting there thinking, "This is what I have to get students to unlearn when they get to college." Oh, and the "Info Tech" class. OS 9 people! OS 9. And they're just learning to type. That's it. No how to use wikipedia. No other software tools. I know it costs money to buy new computers and all, but OS 9? AppleWorks? Holy crap. The woman teaching the class used to teach shorthand.

The only good thing was math and science. I liked math and science. The teacher's a younger guy, about my age, and approaches learning very differently and uses technologhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gify in the classroom. They're doing and online web thing with hurricanes. He puts the responsibility for learning on the students and provides an appropriate enviornment and the tools they need. So yay for that.

But man, the state of the public school system sucks. Such old methods. No wonder we're lagging.

In other news, I sent chapter 4 off--hooray, hurrah. I am taking it a little bit easy this week. Did a little bit of work yesterday, but today, I have an early start to my work day, so I'm just hanging out. I lived with that chapter for so long, it feels weird to be moving on. But I'm glad I am. I can *really* see the light at the end of the tunnel now. So weird.

I have some more to say about faculty, teaching and technology. When my brain functions, I've been thinking about this, so more on that later. Oh, and I should go visit Wednesday Whining (is it Wednesday already?)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Teaching is hard

We're three weeks into the semester and I'm not sure I feel we're totally in the swing of things. My students may find this, so I will paint this in broad strokes. In fact, I hope they do find this. It would mean they're doing what I expect.

Last semester, when I taught this course, we really focused on blogging. We didn't have a heavy-duty reading assignment until 2-3 weeks into the course. This semester, I decided to do both--have the blog and do some reading and leave it up to the students as to whether they blogged about the reading or something else related. The thing is, most students are averaging about 1 post a week, though I've assigned 4 posts (two over each long weekend). I know this blogging thing works. The hard part is motivating the students to get going on it. Most are motivated (from my recent study results) by receiving comments either from other students or from other bloggers. I had given them the assignment to find something to comment on and to comment and leave our url so that we might get some traffic to our site. I even showed them how to do this in class on Thursday.

I did my own assignment over the weekend and indeed, we did get a link and a comment. So I modeled what I wanted, and I guess I'll discuss what I did in class. I'm also planning to do a brainstormin exercise a la jo(e). I feel like I need to mix it up in class a little. The students were kind of dragging on Thursday. Partly, I think the weather was a factor and it was beginning to sink in that college is going to be a lot of work and I think we're kind of tired of the book. We should have gone through that faster.

The thing that's hard is that my philosophy about teaching is that the students should take responsibility for their learning. Creating the environment for that is much harder than lecturing, just giving paper assignments and then grading them. I come to class with more questions than answers and I think some students find that unnerving. And if the students don't wrestle with my questions, there's a lot of dead air and I find that unnerving.

The kind of teacher I want to be is one who inspires in her students the desire to learn more. I've always had a few students like that. Whether I've had anything to do with it or not, I don't know. But I recognize that I'm not always that inspiring. But I want to be, and so I keep working at it.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Thinking about diversity

Okay, I can't stay away. You people make me think too much. I was just glancing at blogs while I waited for my Death-to-the-Diet Brownies (recipe tomorrow) to cook, when I ran into Phantom's post (Phantom Scribbler: Diversity)). I had read Jody's post which she references and even looked up the demographics of our current school--so very white, like 94%. I had occasion to return to the issue of diversity while out driving today. I had gone over to our local nursery to get some flowers but decided I didn't like their selection, so I punched Home Depot into our navigation system, thinking while I was at it, I'd check out some shelving. I knew there was one nearer to us than the one we usually went to up north, near a mall and Target and many other stores.  So off I went to a town I hadn't ever been to. On the way back, the navigation system (whom we call Muffy--long story) took me through a town we had considered living in.  The town is lovely, one of the older suburbs of Philadelpha with large Victorian houses and a quaint downtown.  The house we were looking at was an old central hall colonial. It was huge and had a large yard.  But there were bars on the windows and bars on the windows of all the other nearby houses. The high school was practially in our back yard and all the students were outside and they were almost all African American. In fact, despite the town itself being 75% white, the schools are 75% African American. And we balked. We looked up the school information which was worrisome, much lower scores, for example that other schools in the area and then there were the bars.

Driving through the area today, it seemed much quainter then. I drove right through the downtown area and saw people of all different races walking around, enjoying the day.  There was an arts festival going on and there were banners hanging and more people out than usual, I suspect. And I had a moment of regret. I'm always lamenting the lack of diversity around here and yet, I had run away from it here, too scared to take the risk. Living there would have put us on a train line. It certainly would have changed a lot of things about our life.

I am not comfortable with the way I reacted to the possibility of living in a diverse neighborhood, but as this shows, it doesn't take much to move us into segregated areas.  Go ahead, play with the model. Just a 30% preference to be with similar people creates a pretty segregated situation. At a 60% preference, you end up with almost 100% segregation. 

And, as Zuska was writing the other day about the lack of women in science, it takes a real push from the majority for change to occur. If, as apparently has happened in this particular town, all the white people go to private schools, there's no way to achieve any kind of diversity in the public schools. I don't have the answer. I don't know why I, as an individual, have not been more active in pursuing a more diverse environment for my kids. We're all talk and no action over here, or as my college roommate used to say, all hat and no cattle.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Must. Not. Blog.

I'm stepping away from blogging for the weekend--reading and writing. I have had what can only be described as one of the most incredibly stressful weeks of my life. It's right up there with the week before my wedding. I went into the week fairly stressed out already and then things just piled on. Mr. Geeky was away for a couple of days. There's no clean clothes or food in the house. I feel disoriented.

I did, however, pretty much finish Chapter 4 of the dissertation. W00t! I'm planning to clean it up a bit and send it off and begin Chapter 3. Yeah, I know, it's not in order. Chapter 3 is the last chapter I have to draft. Then, I figure there'll be some pretty major revisions once I see the thing as a whole. I know I'm going to want to make connections from Chapter 4 to Chapter 3, but seeing as I haven't written it yet . . .

So, I'm going to spend the week on the diss and being a soccer mom. Geeky mom will return bright and early Monday morning.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Note about header

Just wanted to thank J. at bingdella for the header! I think it looks great. Thanks, J.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why I'm disappointed in Katie Couric

Yes, this topic won, barely beating out Faculty, Teaching and Technology, which I promise to write about tomorrow, since I could probably write about that topic all day every day. :) I have some cogent thoughts about it and some good input in the comments to my last post on the topic. (Geeky Mom: Technology burnout)

I decided not to say I hated Katie Couric, because I don't. I don't know her at all and there are a couple of things I admire about her. But overall, I'm disappointed. But it's also a very sticky wicket. I've been waiting since about 1986 for a female anchor, so it's about time for that. And I hate that any criticism that's launched at her gets twisted into something gendered. Go to YouTube and search for Katie Couric. It's not pretty. For example, she did this contest for her sign off line and the Jimmy Kimmel show spliced together her real discussion of that with a flashing of her breasts. I ask you, would they have had Matt Lauer flash his audience as a signoff. I don't think so.

The fact that she had a signoff line contest is part of what bugs me about her. I know she wants to seem friendly and "indclude the audience" but have some guts and just pick something already. You've had three months. I mean really. Add to that that she said after one of the stories I saw, "I just love that story." She just doesn't seem serious enough. It feels like she's turned the news into a parlor game.

Part of me thinks, well the news format was determined by some white guys over the last 50 years. Maybe the news should change its format, but I don't think the direction she chose is the right way to go. It just doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel like journalism in the same way that Fox News doesn't feel like journalism.

It's a shame, really, that our first female anchor has to be someone who, in my opinion, is not a real journalist and about whom the country has some gender-based hangups that they probably couldn't get past even if she were a real journalist. There are some good female journalists they could have chosen--Martha Raddatz, Cokie Roberts, Diane Sawyer--to name a few. CBS's own Lara Logan is an excellent journalist though perhaps it's too early in her career to move to anchor.

I think, though, that most of my feelings about Katie are a bit amorphous. I'm not always sure why she makes me cringe. She seems phony in some way or trying too hard or something. I think agree with the following sentiment:

I wish I knew exactly why it was that I loathe Katie Couric so greatly. She has never personally attacked me or my family. She’s never done anything directly to offend me or anyone that I care about. She’s been nothing but an on air personality which, incidentally, has all but driven me mad for the last 15 years of my life with her plastic appearance and ridiculous hair styles. . . . There are few people in this world that have ever been able to have the effect on me that Katie has been able to have. Very few have been able to literally make me cringe at the sound of their name, and even fewer have made me want to scream at the sound of their voice.

Yahoo! 360° - Something to think about.... - Ding Dong ~ September 13, 2006

I long for real news again. Since ABCs gone down the path to 9/11 and CBS has become some kind of variety show, I'm watching NBC--I guess.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The well is not dry

I'm still finding myself with lots to write about, and it's kind of fun to do these poll thingies, so what do you think? What should I cover next?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why I'm afraid to do research

Specifically, what I didn't realize was how much my confidence in my ability to do research had been blown to smithereens and scattered to the four winds.

New Kid on the Hallway: Minor epiphany

I have no confidence when it comes to research. New Kid, thankfully, has regained hers, but me, not so much. And yet, I'm plugging away at my dissertation anyway, as if I had all the confidence in the world.  I mean, really, what else am I going to do?  But, I think my fear of research keeps me from even considering a faculty position. Because what if they ask me to do *real* research? Then what? They'll know that I'm just talking out my butt.

I think there are lots of reasons for my fear. First, and foremost is that I'm now in a field, a very loose field, that I wasn't formally trained in. My dissertation is in Composition and Rhetoric, but all my research training in literature. Even in literature, I found research somewhat overwhelming. What if I missed something? What if I'm just saying everything that everyone else has said for 100 years?  There's just so much to read. 

I have kept up pretty well with comp/rhet research and of course, have read lots more since starting my dissertation. But I again often find myself feeling overwhelmed. I especially feel overwhelmed when I feel like I have to recap the entire research background on topic x before I can even begin to speak for myself. I hate that.  I find myself thinking sometimes as I'm writing, is there research on this particular point? Did I look?

And worse, there's the quantitative part of my research, which I have *never* done, never had a class in.  I've read plenty of articles based on quantitative research, but never been trained in how to do it. So, I had to read a bunch of books about it instead, and thankfully, I had a colleage from the social sciences help me determine what kind of statistical analysis would be useful. Otherwise, I would have been screwed. I also didn't know how to write that stuff up, so I struggled. I read models of papers or book chapters that had similar studies. I Googled. And then I forged ahead anyway.

Basically, I'm always worried that I'm doing something wrong, like the kid who isn't sure what the rules are and goes ahead and plays around anyway, but with the nagging fear that she will be punished any minute and not be sure what for. It's not a good feeling.

And then there's the informality of my voice.  My writing is only slightly more formal in my dissertation than it is here. I don't use big fancy words. I feel pretty confident about this most of the time, but then I'll see a "dialogic" thrown in somewhere in something I'm reading and I think, man I don't use that word. Am I gonna get dinged for that?

And then, there's the practical bent of what I'm doing. I'm not a theory person. Although I'm defining a new approach in my dissertation, which is based on a theoretical foundation, my main intent is practical. I want people who read my dissertation to get some new ideas for teaching and to appreciate that they're based on sound pedagogical principles, both from the realm of writing and from the realm of education more broadly.

So I feel like I'm always doing something wrong and that my research isn't real because it's practical and not theoretical and I present it too informally. And while I'd like to call myself a maverick for breaking down some kind of research hierarchy, the truth is, I just feel like a fraud.

I ignore this fear most of the time because if I didn't, I'd never do anything, much less write a dissertation. But one day, I'm going to face this thing down. I just don't know how right now.

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What should I write about

I'm actually finding myself with lots of topics here. So here's poll. What should I tackle first?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Week in Review

Work

The work week was kind of crazy. I worked on Monday since it was the first day of classes. And as you could probably tell from the previous post, I was a little stressed out.  On Wednesday, I spent about 2/3 of the day answering Blackboard questions. As I indicated below, part of my frustration with answering these questions was that most of them (there were a few exceptions) were easily answered via the FAQ.  I still managed to get a fair amount of other stuff done, but it felt really squeezed. I know that things will settle down next week and I can step back a little more and assess what really needs to be done.

On the plus side of work, I finally received my new computer. I chose to replace my desktop with a MacBook Pro.  I am so happy about my choice. One of the best things is that I installed Parallels so that I can virtually run Windows and Linux on my mac.  It's really useful to me to be able to test things on different platforms and to explore applications.

Dissertation

The last few weeks have been pretty productive in terms of writing.  I wrote about 30 pages over the last two weeks, writing only about an hour a day. I didn't write every day. The pattern that's fallen out so far has been 3 days a week during the work week and both weekend days. I'm seriously considering filing an extension for May.  I have one more chapter to write and although my goal is to finish by the end of September, I just don't think there's enough time for my committee to read it, for me to make revisions and to get it all in on time for the December 7th deadline. I've been running about 2 weeks behind my imposed deadlines, so that pushes the final chapter to mid October. If I didn't have to file an official extension, I wouldn't think twice about this, but because I have forms to fill out, I'm a little reluctant to take this route.  Generally, I'm happy with my progress.

Teaching

The first two days of class have gone pretty well.  I had really bonded with my last class and I'm sure this class will be similar.  We're blogging again, along with several other classes. As last year, it takes a while for the students to get a hang of the blogging thing. Different from last year is our focus on a particular topic--higher education. 

The kids and home

We're all adjusting to being back in a routine and an earlier one at that. The first day, of course, everyone popped out of bed the minute the alarm went off.  Now we're all dragging a little.  We're actually getting up a full hour and a half earlier than we did last year.  Geeky Boy seems to be adjusting well to middle school. Mr. Geeky meets him at home at 3:00 and then he does his homework. He seems more organized so far than last year.  We'll see how long that lasts.

Geeky Girl also changed schools although her new school is the school where her afterschool program was located, so it wasn't totally new. She's a very different being than Geeky Boy--kind of an organization freak.  But she doesn't always read the directions very thoroughly or interprets things however she wants.  When we suggest she might be wrong about her homework assignment, she gets upset.  So that's challenging.

Mr. Geeky's on leave which I think is good for us right now. He has work to do, of course, but his pace is slower than the rest of us.  It's especially good for me with the dissertation thing going on. It's good to have one person in the family who isn't going full steam ahead. 

I'm planning a fair amount of downtime this weekend, starting with taking today off to make up for Monday. We'll be going a bit slower this weekend since we're not gearing up for school, which will also be good.


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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Technology burnout

Burn out and frustration are common ailments among people who support technology. I'm lucky that these ailments only hit me once or twice a year. For people working help desk or desktop support jobs, it's a year-round thing. In the 21st century, I'm still amazed that there are people who don't know their way around a computer. And they are afraid or unwilling to try to figure them out. The people who try, I go out of my way to help them.

When people call for technology support, they are not in the best of moods. There are generally three possible scenarios. One, something broke and they need it fixed and they may have lost something important in the process. Two, they just realized they need to do something involving the computer and they don't know how and rather than reading the ubiquitous documentation, they call you. Or three, they have tried to use something and it's not working for them, can't log in, getting an error when they try something; it's not broken, it's just not working.

The first scenario, I'm completely sympathetic with. Things happen. Computers crash. Programs quit. Printers stop printing. Still, there's frustration when the person calling (or emailing) doesn't understand enough about their computer to help you diagnose the problem. They don't know, for example, the steps they go through to print or where their documents are saved. When that happens, you're in a situation where someone has to physically go see them. And that takes a lot of time. And then it turns out that the printer wasn't turned on. And so the person leaves and thinks, I wasted an hour of my time because they can't turn on their printer.

The second scenario I find really frustrating. Much of our summer (and other times too) is spent trying to anticipate what people will need to know when they return to campus and we try to create simple, easy to understand instructions about how to do those things. We send out email with instructions and we include links to even more instrutions. We send out flyers. These are all ignored. And then sometimes, this turns into, "I don't have time to do this. Can't you do this for me?" (Sometimes it starts this way, which is even more frustrating.) When the ratio of IT to faculty is better than 1 to 160, I'll be happy to do whatever you want. Until then, I'm going to send you instructions. And can I just note here that if a student behaved the way some of you have behaved, you'd be incensed. Just saying.

The third scenerio sometimes turns out to be the second scenario in disguise. Sometimes they just haven't followed directions. Sometimes the directions are confusing and use terminology they don't understand (this gets to two things: one, tech people could learn to speak English and two, people could learn more about their computers). Or sometimes, it turns into scenario one, something is broken. And most of the time, there's an actual problem with their account or with the system and something needs to be fixed. And I'm okay with that.

Still, even if you're dealing with scenarios where the person legitimately needs help, it can be frustrating after you've answered the same question a hundred times. Generally, people work the help desk for about a year and then they move on to something else. That's a pretty short lifespan.

The thing is, I know the help desk people can be frustrating, too. They speak another language. They speak too fast. They talk about things you don't even know how to define. Sometimes there's that tone in their voice. You can tell they think you're an idiot. It's not you, it's the person before you, really. It takes forever to get a response. Yes, we could do better. But if they help you and it fixes your problem or you learn something or you're finally able to log in, say thank you, even if you don't want to.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Making a life for ourselves

Regular readers know I stress out over trying to balance my life. And for me, that's not about doing less, but doing everything I want without completely shortchanging any particular piece. It's why I think about all that organization stuff. I want it all--really I do. Today, Elizabeth at Half-Changed World said what I think about all the time:

There are people who are happy focusing all their energy in one part of their life; I'm just not one of them.

She talks about how she appreciates the many different facets of her life and that she feels fulfilled by all of them, even she does none of them perfectly. Where the heck does this strive for perfection in all things come from? What happened to good enough?

That lack of desire on my part to focus on just one thing is one reason I can't be an academic as it is currently constructed. In order to really succeed, I think I'd need that kind of focus and that's just not going to happen. I like my odds and ends, thank you very much.

From a slightly different corner, but still, I think, at its root, from the same underlying desire, Jody writes about needing to refill her cup. I remember when she wrote about this before. I sense a theme. For now, she's focusing on her dissertation, trying to gain some closure on a project she started. I know that feeling, for sure. But what I really like about what she writes is the gutsiness of it, the expression emotion that I know I, and many other parents, have felt:

Truly, I've been holding on by my fingertips for the last two years. I haven't written much about this on the blog lately, because it's embarrassing and miserable, but I'm so burnt out, I can't stand myself. . . . Finally, with kindergarten starting, the kids are in a place they seem to love, with people I trust for now, and I can turn my attention to healing all the broken bits of myself.

I've felt that way very recently and it took some therapy and navel gazing and long conversations with my husband. I had shut down, unexpectedly quit, to use a geeky metaphor. I think we all, parents or not, get to that point in a world that pushes us to do, do, do, not for ourselves, but for others. Doing for ourselves is not something that's valued in our society. Taking time off, whether it's from work or from your kids, is important, but is often seen as a bit verboten.

When I was at home with Geeky Boy too, I felt pretty worn out. I just had very little connection with the outside world and that made me feel so invisible. Sometimes I long for the relative freedom I had then and think that I want that back again. But then I remember how lonely I felt, how I just couldn't make myself be one of those moms who obsessed over every little detail of their kids' lives. Things might not be the same now as they were then. I'm a different person with more interests, more mobility than I had then. But I enjoy the energy I'm putting into my work. I think if I'd continued to stay at home, I would have put that energy into something besides my kids even if I didn't get paid to do it.

I hope Jody refills her cup. I have faith that she will.

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Getting Organized

With as much as I have going on this semester, I obviously need to organize my time well. I may have poked a little fun at my friend who had her kids' backpacks ready to go, but the truth is, I need to be that organized too. It's just a matter of priorities. School supplies are not a priority for me. It's something that can be delegated to the kids. In truth, I need my kids to share the burden and be a bit self-sufficient. If they weren't, I'd be in big trouble. And I'm lucky that for the most part, they take on responsibility without a complaint.

With a blissfully me  eting-free day yesterday, I was able to get back into  my GTD system at work. I'm using Airset to track my lists a la the GTD TiddlyWiki, which I liked, but which I lost when my computer died a while back. I'm planning to reconstitute my treo to use just as a palm or buy a stripped down palm to sync everything together. 

Here's what I'm doing so far:

  1. First thing in the morning, I go through email.  Anything that takes less than five minutes to deal with, I take care of and respond to immediately.  Other things get filed into one of the many email folders I have.  One of those is a to-do for tasks that don't fit into a project.
  2. Next, depending on the schedule I have for the day, I like to continue in the email vein and send emails. 
  3. I will then look at my to-do folder and schedule longer tasks.  Some tasks I may jot down on a piece of paper or put into my airset lists with reminders to make sure I get them done.  These I will often do when I have some time before meetins and whatnot.
  4. I have project folders, both physical and virtual.  When I do my weekly review, I go through all of these and brainstorm about what needs to be done with them and determine next tasks for those.  If they're not already on a list, I add these to the list.
  5. I carry around index cards and/or pads of paper.  During the collection process, I make sure these get added to a list.

Some things I haven't quite worked out yet:

  1. I'm trying to make time for reading, for keeping up with journals and blogs in my field. What I haven't really decided is how often I should do this--every day? And what should I do when I get interrupted? Should I make sure I don't get interrupted by going somewhere else?  I feel like this is an important thing to do and I am doing it in bits and pieces, but it feels disconnected.
  2. Scheduling a review time.  Unfortunately, I can't guarantee an hour or so a day that will be free to review.  My folders are languishing a bit because of this. When things get busy, this is the first thing to go.  I think what I need to do is to go week by week.  On Monday, I need to say, what day looks good as a review day. 
  3. Delegating. I have students and colleagues whom I can pass tasks on to.  The hard thing is figuring out which tasks are appropriate to pass on and how much information I need to give the person in order to complete the task.  I also need a way to check in and make sure the task is complete.  I'm thinking for my students, I'm going to use a blog.  I rarely pass on tasks to colleagues since we kind of work in silos here.
  4. Figuring out what tasks just shouldn't be done. This is a tough one, especially when it comes to doing things for faculty.  On the one hand, I want to provide the best support I possibly can.  On the other hand, I'm not here to do your work for you. Over the last week, I've received many requests to do things which faculty have the ability to do, but they may not know how to do the task.  I'm always torn between sending along instructions and just doing it for them.  Occasionally, I've sent instructions and the person on the receiving end has not been happy about that.  Also, the general boundaries of my job are not always clear, typical in a small organization, but I think I need to prioritize a bit more.
That's just the work life.  At home, I've put the kids to work more and I'm also using airset for the family calendar.  Getting Mr. Geeky to use it is another story, but we're getting there. We also have a physical calendar on the fridge.  The school blogs are going to be huge for me. No more piles of paperwork!!  Home is the place I'm always trying to tweak into a more organized machine, but it's also the place where a lot of the rigidity I impose on myself at work can fall by the wayside.  So I think I'm satisfied with the way things are there for the most part.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Nothing like waiting until the last minute

I'm working today. Yes, on Labor Day. It's the first day of classes and as someone who supports the work that goes on in those classes, I can't really miss. Plus I missed Friday because of the mystery illness.

School begins for the kids tomorrow and my own class begins tomorrow.  None of us are quite ready. The kids were to read at least one book and write a book report. They read a ton of books over the summer and they are just now writing their reports. It will be their main goal today. I've been saying something to them about this nearly every day for the entire summer. They've waited until the day before school starts. Mr. Geeky says, but they've read a ton of books and then I say, yeah, but if they don't do the cheesy assignment they've been given, it won't make a difference how many books they've read. Which, of course, pisses me off. Because not only do they have to do these reports, but they have to read "certain" books. Can you think of any better way to make a kid hate reading than to say, "You can only read these books and you have to write about them in this way"? Yeah, me neither.  I don't see why the kids can't be encouraged to read as much as they want and to turn in a list of the books they've read and if they really need further proof, maybe they can write or draw something about their favorite. The structure of public education is beginning to wear on me.

The kids went shopping this weekend for clothes and school supplies.  I dropped Geeky Girl off at a friend's house on Saturday and the mom informed me that she had packed all 4 of her kids backpacks already.  (Please, you SAHMs out there, tell me this is not normal behavior.) When she asked me if we were ready. I said, nope, I'm going to buy stuff now. I think she was a bit flabbergasted. I explained that I'd been pretty busy getting prepared for my college's classes to start. I had actually planned it this way. Unless I'd done my shopping back in July, this was the only weekend school shopping could happen. We'd lost Geeky Girl's list, so we had to make some educated guesses.  I'm sure she'll come home on Tuesday with a new list.

And it's not just the kids who are pushing things to the last minute. I, too, am still tweaking things for my class and only have the first three weeks of the syllabus worked out. Actually, I don't like to be too structured in my syllabus and allow the class to determine some of the direction. For now, the rest of the syllabus will consist of the order in which the readings will be read.

Does all this waiting until the last minute stress me out? Yeah, a little, but to me, when you have this much to juggle, you just have to learn to deal with these last minute things. It will get done and really, what harm will come if it doesn't?

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Reconstruction

So, I was playing around with my template--obviously--and I accidentally nuked the whole thing and had to start from scratch. I guess this will do. I like it okay. I wish I had the time and energy to personalize a little more. I need a Geeky Mom banner. Anyone want to volunteer to create one? I can't draw and don't really have appropriate pics right now. Sigh. Something with an iPod and a computer in it? Books too.

So how do I look?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Geeking out on a Friday night

I'm under the weather today with a mystery disease (more as I know more; it's nothing serious). Mr. Geeky went to a movie I didn't want to see (and didn't feel up to it anyway) and so I was reading through the Teaching Carnival. It's awesome. I, of course, gravitated to the technology section, which eventually (through a journey of discovery) led me to this post about various tools for classroom blogging. And so I ended up trying out Flock. And, well, in a word, I'm in love. Seriously, it's like really cool. I'm sure the love will fade after the honeymoon, but right now I think it's wonderful. I've been reading about it for a while and many people have been singing their praises, but installing a new browser hasn't been at the top of my list. But on a rainy Friday, it's the perfect thing to do.

So what's so cool about it? Built in RSS reader with a very nice interface. Fully integrated with other Web 2.0 goodies, like Flickr, del.icio.us, and Technorati. Built in blogging tool (which I'm using right this second). I mean, I have a little Flickr band with pictures of my kids that I can scroll through. How cool is that?

I live in my web browser. Shouldn't it make me this happy?

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Friday Reflections, or RBOC

It's been a long week. I've attempted to start working on those resolutions I've made. Let's see how I've done:

  • I got up every day at 6:00 this week and made progress on the dissertation. This plan seems to be working. We'll see how it goes next week when the kids start school and things might be more hectic in the morning. But I definitely like getting that work done first. That way, if I need to come home and collapse, I can.
  • The exercise isn't happening. I'm planning to do this in the evenings instead of the mornings. I've been sick this week on top of everything else, so I don't feel too bad that exercise fell by the wayside.
  • We wanted to go geocaching last weekend or this weekend, but the weather is not cooperating. We'll aim for next weekend.
  • I think I've been doing a good job this week. I've been responding quickly to emails and trying to resolve problems and accomplish tasks quickly. I've had some excellent one-on-one sessions with people that started out as "learning the technology" sessions, but ended up being more about effective use of the technology. Very happy about that.
  • One kid event this week--middle school orientation. It was a scavenger hunt around the school which Geeky Boy kindly let me join him on. I thanked him for not ditching me and for not thinking I'm too uncool to hang out with him. And I told him it was fun and that I was glad to have the opportunity to see the school. Bonus: the school has a blog. Do you know how happy that makes me?
  • No real inadequacy this week. Though I did feel a tad uncomfortable at the new faculty orientation. I was at a table with the provost and a very untalkative bunch. Two people did all the talking. The provost tried to elicit conversation, but that wasn't happening. It just felt weird and I wanted to participate in the discussion about teaching, but felt like it would seem out of place. Sigh.
So, a pretty good week overall. A good way to kick off the academic year.

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