Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 Resolutions

Some people are not making resolutions. Others have themes. Me? I'm a bit of a self-improvement junkie. I love making resolutions and I don't mind if I don't make it. It's the thought that counts. So here's what I'm thinking for this year.

1. Exercise. You knew I'd put this one on the list. I'm planning 3 times a week (Tues, Thur, and Sat) with the possibility of adding more--a class maybe. My goal is to lose 15 pounds which I know can mostly be achieved by moving around more (my diet is pretty good). I'm sticking mostly with walking for now, but I own weights, a yoga pad and a couple of DVDs so I have plenty of tools to work with. I get bored easily, so I'm going to look for opportunities to hike, play games, etc. I'd like to join a women's soccer team in the spring, but that may be too ambitious. We'll see.

2. Declutter the house. It stresses me out to see stuff piled in the corners. I think this will go a long way toward helping me relax. Thanks to the Unclutterer blog, I've gotten some great ideas. The main idea I'm going to work on is scheduling cleanup time. I'm very organized about my time, so it makes sense to take advantage of that (as I'm doing with exercise). I hate cleaning, but if I'm supposed to clean for 1/2 hour, I will. I've scheduled one room per day for 1/2 hour (today is the kitchen/dining area). I'm also creating playlists for musical cleaning. I'm hoping most of this time can be for decluttering and not general cleaning or that it will eventually. For example, the kids and Mr. Geeky are responsible for basic kitchen cleaning. If the kitchen is clean, I can do things like reorganize a cabinet. And once that's done, I can cut cleaning time to 15 minutes. Yes, I'm very optimistic.

3. One day without screens. Our geeky household spends a lot of time in front of the computer or a video game console. It's not that I think all such activities are bad, but it definitely takes time away from other possible activities and I think it would be a good example for the kids. I did this yesterday--no screens until 5:00. Geeky Girl followed my lead most of the day and read a book and played with other toys besides her video games or webkins. I didn't tell her to; she just did. Now if I could get Mr. Geeky to follow suit . . . I'll admit this was hard for me. But I think it will be worth it.

1. Blog three times a week. I let the blogging slide this semester because I was really busy. I think the blog can be a good tool for getting out information, so I need to do it more. Again, I'll schedule this time.
2. Schedule time for research/reading. I was doing this, but I let it slide, so I'm reinstating it. In order for this to happen, I have to leave my office--sad but true.

That's really it. I have a lot of little things I want to try to do--like use LibraryThing and do Project365 again this year. But those are minor.

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year's Eve. Here at the Geeky household, we'll be finishing a Risk game, drinking champagne and watching Monk.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Resolutions past

Before I post this year's resolutions, I thought I'd take stock of previous years'. I make resolutions twice a year, now and at the start of academic years. Let's see how I did.

According to this post from 2004, recording resolutions for 2005, I wanted to do the following:
1. Walk at least 30 minutes per day (may be substituted with other exercise)
2. Write at least a page a day.
3. Cut my debt in half. Ideally, I'd eliminate it, but I think that's unrealistic.
That first one has been a perennial item on the list. The desire to exercise in some form or another comes up almost every 6 months on this blog. Earlier this month, I started walking--running even--but then weather and/or illness have prevented me from being outside and/or mobile for a couple of weeks now. I've decided that trying to exercise every day is crazy. If I miss a day, I feel horrible and that's just counterproductive. Three to four times a week is more reasonable. I can almost always do something on both weekend days and that just leaves two days during the week to squeeze in time. I obsess about this for two reasons. One, I've gained about 15 pounds over the last couple of years. Two, I'm not getting any younger. I really do want to be in decent shape as I age.

Two and three are pretty moot. I'd like to get back maybe to writing for fun (besides here), but I'm not sure if I'm ready to add that to my life. The debt is more than cut in half, but not eliminated. It seems likely that I could do that this year, but it's not a top priority.

One new year and one academic year saw finishing the dissertation at the top of the list. There are some other interesting things on that academic year list: taking hikes, going to kid events, quitting the inadequacy schtick. I've done okay on the second and third items, but the first, not so much. I might be able to add that this year. January 2007 was also a year of interesting resolutions. Family game night didn't pan out. We did plenty of stuff as a family, but it wasn't always game night Date nights worked out pretty well also, especially after the dissertation was handed in. And work is, well, work. I'll have more to say about that later.

Most recently, of course, I made another set of academic year resolutions. I still think I could work on relaxing. I'm planning some meditation or something. The exercise, of course, a struggle. Publishing something--I think that's going to happen. We'll see.

So, I've kept a few resolutions, missed others, but haven't let failure hinder me from continuing to put them on the list. A quick Google search brings up some interesting articles on how to keep resolutions and/or set goals for the coming year. I like the idea from this article of setting mini goals each month that are part of the greater goal. I especially like this post from, which suggests doing what I just did--looking back at past resolutions and seeing what didn't work and why. What resolutions have you not kept and why? What's on your list for this year?

Sniffling my way into the New Year

I picked up a cold on Christmas Day--worst. present. ever. Almost every year, I get sick over Christmas. Some years, it sets in before the big day. I have memories of being severely drugged up while opening presents or eating Christmas dinner and of being seriously miserable.

This year, the cold didn't hit until late Christmas Day and we pretty much lay around for the next few days anyway, so it didn't really cramp my style too much. Only now, I'm starting to get stir crazy and want to start doing something, but my head is stuffed and I have no energy. I started to do something yesterday, but no go. I lasted five minutes.

I would also like to start thinking. But maybe I'll wait until I go back to work in a few days. Cold or no cold, the down time has been good for me, I think. One of the things I'm thinking about for the new year is a way to be more zen, more relaxed. I'm not as wound up as some people--at least from an outward appearance--but inside, I'm a mess. I had a dream last night where I was seriously pissed because I didn't have control over a situation--and the situation was pleasant--and I was still pissed. Part of getting to the zen place is controlling what I can--including organizing my house and tasks. I'm working on resolutions for home and work. Tomorrow, I'll dig up resolutions past and see how I did and where to go from here.

I've inwardly chastised myself for spending so much time playing Civilization, watching Monk (an inspiration for organization?), and watching truly bad tv. But sometimes, I need that time to clear my head and not focus on the minutia that tend to run around in my head. If I weren't on vacation, I suspect I would have popped some pills and gone to work despite being sick even though rest is what I really need. We are a culture afraid to rest. I'm going to try to get away from that fear this year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging: First Ever

Originally uploaded by lorda.
This was the only picture I could take before Kali headed under the bed for a nap. She's a little groggy from surgery and a bit of a cold (there's medicine already!), but we're glad to have her home earlier than expected.

She popped right out of her carrier and wandered all around downstairs. We got her loads of stuff to play with, so as soon as she's up to it, we're looking forward to playing some good games.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Meet Kali

This is my Christmas present. We went to the animal shelter yesterday to pick her out. She's about 7 months old, solid black, and very sweet. She was reaching out her paws to us and when we took her out of the cage, she wasn't skittish at all, just very snuggly. There were lots of cute cats there. They seemed to be going quickly as well. I was glad to see so many animals getting homes.

Kali won't be home with us until the 31st. She's getting spayed and microchipped. We're going to go get some toys and things to welcome her into the family. Look for future catblogging and lolcat building.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Google is not about privacy--and that may be okay

There's a post this morning about how some people are complaining that Google Reader's new feature where your shared items are shared with your contacts violates their privacy. Robert Scoble says that Google needs more granular privacy controls a la Facebook. I vote with his first response, that people need clarification on what public means.

I've written about this before, from the standpoint of being aware that future employers are increasingly eyeing a future employee's online presence. Increasingly, I think, if you're using social software, nothing is private. Search, even, is not private. Sure, there are ways to change settings so that your searches aren't cached, your blogs aren't pinging services, etc., but most people don't change the defaults, so they're just out there. And that's okay. People just need to understand up front what it means to have so much of their online activity shared. And maybe being more open--online or elsewhere--is a good thing. Maybe it makes us more accountable for our actions. Sure, there are still some parts of our lives and our thoughts that are private, but mostly those parts aren't being put online and if they are, I'd argue that either a) someone doesn't understand how public the online space is; or b) they want people to know about those parts. Healthy skepticism is good, but paranoia leads us down a bad path.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

All is calm . . .

Sunrise with Moon Christmas Eve
Originally uploaded by lorda.
Sort of. It's been a great Christmas so far. We can barely walk in the living room. We're completely full. And I need a nap. A roaring success I'd say. I hope you are all have just as wonderful a day, whether you're celebrating Christmas or just enjoying some time with friends and family.

Entire Christmas set

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tracking Santa via Google Earth

We're tracking Santa via Google Earth this year. It's really cool. Check it out.

All too familiar

We've had many a Christmas like this. Up all night blogging, playing video games, checking email just one more time . . .

An opportunity for girls

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Study, girls are more likely than boys to create content online. The NYT reports on this phenomenon this morning. I actually discussed this in a talk I gave to the remaining seven sisters schools a year ago. To me, such statistics show opportunities for girls getting involved in a number of fields. Journalism, video production, literary writing, web programming, music production are all areas that using blogs and YouTube and even Facebook can lead to.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gender roles

Sometimes I look at my role within my family based on the tasks I've taken on and see that it's pretty traditional. For example, I do the cooking and the laundry, both tasks traditionally taken on by the "woman of the house." Mr. Geeky takes out the trash and mows the yard, typical "man of the house" jobs. I often wonder if our children will fall into these roles themselves. They may, but I think we share enough household tasks that the few that are gender-specific may not matter that much. Geeky Boy and Mr. Geeky are responsible for loading and unloading the dishwasher and cleaning up the kitchen after a meal, something I know both my own mother and Mr. Geeky's did solo. I also do a fair amount of work in the yard. Mr. Geeky will often do laundry and I ask Geeky Boy to do his own fairly often as well.

A lot of couples we know and hang out with have reverse gender roles (not to mention the same-sex couples we know). For example, the man does most of the cooking even in households where the woman stays at home with the kids. I often joke that every man I dated before Mr. Geeky was a cook and I married the one guy who had no desire or skill in that area. It's okay, really. I love to cook and Mr. Geeky makes spaghetti and breakfast once a month or so. Geeky Girl did comment during our Top Chef-watching days that she noticed that moms did all the cooking in "real life" but that there weren't many female chefs on the show. That was a tough one to explain.

I've been a feminist pretty much my whole life. Certainly my view is that we should pursue equality for all people, and mostly I've focused on how women and their roles are devalued and I've worked to rectify that. But with a son, I've also started thinking about definitions of masculinity as much as definitions of femininity, and I find them to be just as confining and problematic. I've done a fair job of breaking down my own restrictive views of femininity, but I haven't thought about masculinity as much except in recognizing that I find traditional views of it distasteful. I think Mr. Geeky and I try our best to break out of traditional molds of these definitions, but it's hard not to fall back into roles and reactions that break down along gender lines. I continue to be amazed at how much our culture insists upon traditional views. I think I'm more aware of these at the holidays when home and hearth are central to the celebrations and the woman is central to the keeping of traditions. At least that's how it's portrayed in the movies.

Readers, how do you deal with gender in your household? Do you worry about the roles your children will fall into or how gender will affect what they pursue as a career or their relationships with others?

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I'm a little late to the solstice party, but I've been reading some interesting posts about solstice around the blogosphere. In all of them, there is an impetus to put the old year behind and to look toward the new. From here on out, the light grows. In spite of the cold that will envelope most of us, we know that spring will indeed come. The past two Christmases have been difficult for me for various reasons. Last year, I felt that I was in a year of transition. I was finishing the dissertation (finished a draft before the break), deciding on future career plans, coming out of a depression. The year before I had begun the slide into the depression, though I didn't realize that until I was looking back on it.

This year, I feel like I'm in a good place. I regularly recognize how lucky I am. I have a wonderful family. I'm so very proud of my kids and of Mr. Geeky for all that they do. They are all truly kind people that I enjoy being around. I really like spending time with them and I hope that that's the case for my kids as they get older. I feel truly blessed to have the financial stability to provide a good Christmas for them. When we asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas, neither spit out a long list of stuff. In fact, both of them said that they really didn't need anything and it wasn't until we pushed a little that they came up with stuff.

That's not to say we're perfect and it certainly hasn't been a perfect year. There have been ups and downs. There will always be ups and downs, but I'm looking forward to next year in a way that I haven't in a quite a while.

Happy Winter Solstice everyone. May you, too, look forward to the days of light ahead.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The great slide into vacation mode

I have 4 more days of work before I'm off for a week. I really need the down time and I'm more aware of that than ever. Normally, I save enough vacation time to take the week before Christmas off, but this year, the dissertation trip ate up almost all of it. I'm in that mode of having some loose ends to tie up, but nothing major, and no motivation to work on or start anything big. There are things looming after the break, and I'm excited about them all, but I just can't make myself think about them too much before I'm going to hit a week of doing nothing. I really will do nothing over that time--at least nothing that requires brain energy. The most complex thing I plan to do is work jigsaw puzzles and play video games. There's holiday baking too, but that's not really terribly complex.

I seem to get in this mode before every break. At some point, I just feel myself disconnect. I manage to go through the motions, but that's it. When I had grading, I didn't really get like this because I had this mad rush to get everything done before whatever deadline I'd set for myself (or was thrust upon me)--and then I could go into break mode. When I'm not teaching though, there is no sprint to the finish. It's more like watching the last minutes of a game where you know who the winner will be. You watch just in case some miracle happens or there's an interesting play, but your heart's not really in it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gifts worth blogging about

In my campaign to get rid of clutter myself, I decided not to pass clutter on to my family. Most of my family is in a position of being able to buy whatever they want or need. I'm far enough away from them that I don't know what they have or what they need anyway. But I do know them well enough to know what they might like. And even though it might be better to give the money I spend on Christmas to charity, I still like to show my family that I'm thinking of them and do something for them that they might not do for themselves.

Following a post on the Unclutterer blog, I started looking for things to give my family that would be thoughtful but non clutter producing. But I was having a hard time. Out of desperation, I did a search on Google for "finding gifts." And that took me to, a site filled with fun and interesting gifts. And from there, I ended up at several sites that offer gift certificates for dinners out, golf lessons, singing lessons, nascar driving, and more. Both Signature Days and Cloud 9 Living offer lots of interesting options. There was also Spa Finder and Clubs Galore for other non-clutter gifts.*

Now, I still gave some material gifts, but I think I got some excellent non-material gifts that the recipients will appreciate.

I have two really weird gifts along these lines that I'd love to receive: time with a personal organizer and a financial planner. What are your odd gift wishes?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Administrative work is intellectual work

I've had this post brewing for a while, but New Kid's recent post where she contemplates leaving academe prompted me to actually write it. The dilemma faced by many faculty thinking of leaving is wondering whether work outside of academe will offer intellectual challenges and rewards or if it will turn them into mindless corporate or administrative drones. While I'm sure there are jobs that would not be intellectually fulfilling, a lot of jobs become what you make them. Academic administration, to me, offers the best possibility of having intellectual fulfillment. Anyone who reads Dean Dad regularly should see that there's a lot of intellectual work going into making decisions related to running an institution. I've been thinking about what makes these jobs hard brain work as opposed to simply pencil pushing.*

  • First, some administrators, perhaps not at the highest levels, are able to maintain a research agenda in their area of research. I still do research and write papers and give presentations. And I'm able to pursue whatever interests I have since I'm not bound to covering certain areas. I feel that I can pursue research related to my work while I'm at work. If I veered too far from that, I'd probably pursue that outside of work.
  • There are always problems to solve. They may not be the same kind of problems a researcher works on, but they still require a lot of thought--and often some research. These often require critical thinking skills from a very different perspective than when doing academic research, but it's still quite challenging.
  • Textual analysis. In its simplest form, this can be reading between the lines of memos and emails. But it can also be about analyzing legal documents and contracts or proposals for grants or projects.
  • Writing. My god, the writing. I write more now than I ever did, and the writing needs to be carefully crafted and thought out. I have to attend to audience in a way I never did before--multiple audiences at once! I've written all kinds of documents since I've been on the administrative side: daily email, proposals, evaluations (both of me and others), documentation, web content, pr material. I like the variety. Because academe is a very text-driven environment, good writing skills are not only appreciated, they're crucial to getting real work done.
  • Teaching. In my line of work, there's a lot of teaching. I work with both faculty and students. I've done individual tutorials and workshops. I've created materials for workshops and I've created materials for the "self-taught." I've also had the opportunity to teach courses in the college curriculum. Many places will offer this as an opportunity if you have the experience and the desire (and time!) to teach. So teaching can be a part of an administrative job. But also, there's a lot of teaching that goes on in trying to articulate institutional goals, in showing how decisions were made and how they affect individuals, really in almost every conversation you have.
Honestly, a lot of these jobs are what you make them. If you want to treat it like a mindless job, then it will be. But if you bring all your intellectual skills to bear, that approach will be appreciated and will make the job more fulfilling. There are a lot of differences between these jobs that are worth noting.
  • Institutional perspective. I'm still surprised by how many faculty, despite the fact that they run the place don't have an institutional perspective. They still think only of their little corner of the world, their own pet peeves. As an administrator, you have to think more broadly, even at the lowest levels sometimes, you have to do this. You have to think about what's best for the institution and not about what's best for a particular department or particular faculty member. Balancing individual and institutional needs is a real challenge, one that requires a lot of thought.
  • Working in groups. Unless you're in the sciences where collaboration is common, most faculty moving out of academe will struggle with the idea of relying on others to do parts of their work for them. Also, you have to think about forming appropriate teams to get work done and to participate in teams in an effective way. This requires a great deal of cooperation and diplomacy. It can get frustrating when you're used to just doing everything yourself, but in the end, it's important to include a lot of people.
  • Lack of prestige and respect. The upper administration is almost universally reviled by faculty and there's very little love for the support staff either. That's something to get used to. I still struggle with it a little, but I've also learned that your actions can earn you a lot of respect. It just takes a very long time.
I'm sure I've left things out on both lists. Maybe other administrators out there will chime in.

*I've always thought it was funny to call administrators in academe pencil pushers, when the real pencil pushers are the faculty. Outside the classroom, there's all that grading and writing, not a lot of action.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Teenage? Tweenage?

Geeky Boy is 12, decidedly not a kid anymore, decidedly not an adult yet, and definitely in the middle of some kind of transition. Before I gave birth to him, I bought every book on the planet about pregnancy, birth, and child rearing. Once I got past the the toddler stage, I quit buying books. I figured I knew what I was doing now and besides, I remember life past the age of 4 or 5, so I could draw on that experience. Boy was I wrong. It's not like things are bad or desperate or anything. It's just that things are very, very different. I'm no longer worried about the same things. I used to worry about development--whether my children were reading enough, learning enough, learning the right things, etc. Now I worry about maintaining the motivation for learning, about developing life skills to succeed in school, to get into a good college, to be happy with where they end up in life. Add to that the worries about completely derailing--through drugs, sex, or other problems--and life suddenly gets really complicated.

I picked up The Good Teen by Richard Lerner and whizzed through it. It had lots of good advice, but my biggest fear is that there's no way I can give enough time to foster the positive development he advocates. He talks about getting involved in the community and the school, providing opportunities to talk with your teen, helping him or her develop friendships and relationships with relatives and other adult friends and mentors. I agree with a lot of what he says and think his recommendations make sense. But I'm also thinking, holy crap, that's a full time job! I no longer wonder what parents who stay home in the school years do with their time.

I'm just now realizing that being a connected, contributing human being is a lot of work. I think I functioned under the very capitalist (and maybe communist?) notion that contribution comes through work and that nothing else really matters. I'm starting to feel that while contribution can come through work, a whole lot of it comes through your relationship to your family and contribution to your community, both local and national. And most Americans, I think, are too busy getting and spending to pay attention to that.

I want my kids to understand and appreciate what it means to be a connected, contributing human being, but I'm having a hard time finding time to show them the way. I'm feeling pretty disconnected myself.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

RBOC: Weekend Edition

  • Christmas shopping has begun. Most has occurred online in my pjs. We're trying not to be extravagant and not to add to people's clutter. Consumable goods and "experience" gifts--spa treatments, lessons, etc.--are at the top of our list.
  • Speaking of consumable, one of the most ideal gifts for several people in my family would be a wine-of-the-month club or beer-of-the-month club, but the archaic way our country and states deal with alcohol makes it impossible. Note to winemakers and distributors: you're missing out.
  • We'll be getting a tree and getting out decorations today. Should be fun.
  • I'm very behind on blog reading. The last week left almost no time to do any reading, plus I need to shift when I do that reading now that I'm not doing it in the morning.
  • I'm really looking forward to some time off. I've been working extremely hard the last few weeks and I suspect the next couple will also be hard, wrapping up all kinds of loose ends that unraveled while I was working on a big project. At least I've had my weekends.
  • I have some more involved posts brewing that I will hopefully get to today after the decorating is done.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Wrong week

So it's been a tough week to start up the walking regimen again. I was much more successful than the guy from Airplane! at least. On Tuesday, it was freaking cold and there were 40 mph winds. I only walked 15 minutes, mainly because by the time I got all my gear on and got out the door, it was 6:15. Since I have to be in the shower by 6:30 so I can arrive at work by 7:30, I couldn't do more than 15 minutes. Wednesday the winds had died down, but it was still cold. Today, I thought I'd get up at 5:45 to accommodate for the gearing up time, but opted to sleep in and walk in the afternoon (I'm home by 3:00). That was a good plan since it was 18 degrees this morning and there was an inch or two of snow on the ground.

It's not bad after the first block or two. The first day, I didn't have enough butt coverage, so I was plenty warm on top, but my butt was cold the entire time. After some long underwear and warmer workout clothes purchases, I managed to keep the butt warm. I'm catching up on podcasts and generally enjoying it so far. I still have to convince myself. The voices in my head say, It's so cold. Don't go. The bed is nice and warm. I have to fight that still. I'll say this, spring is gonna feel really warm to me.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Electronic Communications

An article in the Chronicle this morning is very apropos to something that I've been witnessing a lot of lately. This semester, my colleagues and I have been the recipients of very uncollegial communications. These have come from primarily faculty and students (at least what I've seen) and not staff. It's difficult to respond to these kinds of messages, riddled as they are with exclamation points and ALL CAPS!!! Part of me wants to start off the response with, "Hello? Do you realize what a jerk you sound like? Maybe you'd like to read this out loud before you hit the send button." But I usually never point out that their message was perceived as condescending or insulting or just plain mean. But perhaps I should. Or maybe I should pick up the phone and say, "Hey I'm responding to your email message. Did you realize that the tone was harsh? It seemed like you were yelling at me. Did you mean for it to sound that way?"

My rule about electronic communications is to act as if you're speaking to the person face-to-face. If you put something in an email, blog post, blog comment, or discussion forum, it should be something you'd also say in a face-to-face conversation.

My favorite part of the Chronicle article is the following scenario:

What's more, people don't seem to consider the consequences of their
bad behavior. I know of a small group of faculty members who waged a
vicious attack on their chairwoman over a decision she made affecting
their area of study. Two weeks later, the group's ring leader
petitioned the chairwoman for her "moral and financial support" of a
new project he wanted to start on the campus.

"I thought I'd entered the twilight zone," she told me. "He acted as
if the attack of a few weeks earlier had never happened and now we were
supposed to become bosom buddies."

I can't tell you how often that's happened to me. I don't feel particularly generous toward someone who yelled at me last week. I'm okay with disagreement and constructive criticism as long as it's done in a civil manner.

I don't necessarily think world civility is at all-time low, but I do think that most people don't take communication skills--spoken, written, or electronic--very seriously. I think electronic mediums actually offer us the opportunity to work on communication skills more carefully--if we don't dismiss those communication media out of hand. What do you all think of the state of communication in academia? How can so many smart people be so bad at this?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Reality check

This afternoon I learned that one of my college friends died of breast cancer. She was 39. I was struck pretty hard by the news. She was someone I was fairly close to in college, but then lost track of immediately afterwards. I only saw her at reunions. So it's not as if I had remained close to her. If I had, I would have know about the downturn her health had taken in the last month and perhaps, the news of her death would not have been quite so surprising.

For me, she is frozen in time, 20 years ago, when I would spend many hours sitting in her dorm room, discussing the finer points of relationships. I remember when she asked me if she should pursue her future husband romantically. "We're best friends," she had said. "I can't sleep with my best friend." I assured her she could. She was a very solid person and was always a good source of advice, so I always liked spending time with her, whether it was hanging out in her room or at a party or having a couple of drinks.

When I saw her later, she still had her youthful vivaciousness, but touched with maturity. She had become a wonderful woman.

I don't know what else to say except that it just seems so hard to have someone die so young. She seems to have lived a rich life, but it just wasn't a long enough one.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Conquering the sloth

Last week, when I wrote about my clutter and exercise problems, I had every intention of tackling them. I semi-tackled the clutter problem by doing a little clutter reduction in the kids' rooms. I managed to at least keep new clutter from accumulating, so that's something.

On the exercise front, however, I've failed. Truly, the best time for me to exercise is 6 a.m. I usually get up, wake up Geeky Boy and while he's showering, I have my first cup of coffee and catch up on blog reading. It's time to myself that I enjoy. Last week I was thinking about going for a brisk walk at 6 a.m., but I couldn't bring myself to do that. And here I am this morning at 7, having not exercised, but wanting to do something about this lack of fitness thing. I'm having a hard time thinking about giving up this 1/2 or so that I have to myself. I think I need to readjust my attitude. I need to think of walking as the time to myself. Geeky Boy now wants to be driven to school since the weather is cold. I have to throw on clothes anyway, so it would be easy to that 45 minutes earlier. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I myself leave for work at 7:15, dropping Geeky Boy off on the way. It would be trivial to walk half an hour before taking a shower and getting ready for work. And yet, there are obstacles. The lack of motivation is the big one, which makes these small ones seem like deal breakers. I'm writing them here, so that I can get rid of them and make this happen.
  1. Coffee. I must have coffee in the morning. I've already automated the making of the coffee. I could easily take this with me on my walk. I just have to make sure I have my travel mug at home (it's currently at work).
  2. Clothes. I need warm workout clothes. I have a few, but not enough to ensure I'll have something warm to wear. I need hat and gloves as well. I also need clothes warm enough to wear when it's below freezing.
  3. iPod carrier. In the winter, this isn't as much of a problem because I have pockets in a vest I can wear over anything. I used to have one until I got a new iPod and they changed the form factor. The new iPod doesn't fit in the old carrier. Alternatively, I could get a shuffle and put a few things on to listen to while I walk. Maybe that could be my reward for keeping up with this plan until Christmas.
That's all (besides motivation) that's keeping me from getting started. So, I've vowed today to bring my mug home and go pick up a few more clothing items to get started. My goal is to walk every day until Christmas Eve. I'll take the holiday off and begin again on the 26th. You are all my witnesses, so I hope you'll keep me honest.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Life-long employment

Dean Dad has written a couple of posts recently that take on the sacred cow of tenure. It's a theme that comes up again and again in the academic blogosphere. I think Dean Dad, New Kid, Dr. Crazy, and others have done an excellent job of covering several different perspectives on the issue. I have two perspectives to offer: faculty spouse and non-administrative staff.

First, I want make a few random comments. A few commenters at Dean Dad's have said directly or indirectly that "tenure is all we have." I find that both wrong and sad. I know faculty salaries are often lower than they should be, given the amount of schooling and other preparation the job takes. But there are plenty of other benefits besides tenure that are important: health insurance, child care benefits, tuition remission and benefits for children, generous vacation time (winter and spring breaks, summer) etc. These vary, of course, by institution. Tenure may be an excuse for institutions to not offer better salary and benefits. Instead of saying, "tenure is all we have," maybe faculty should ask themselves what they really want and then ask their administrators for it. Anyone who's been in a job outside of academe (with a few exceptions) knows that the benefits at many academic institutions are much better than you can get in the "real world."

Second random thought. I keep thinking how gendered much of the discussion is. Not only is tenure a "pre-modern" concept, as DD describes it, it relies to a large extent on the "pre-modern" family structure as well, which includes having a wife at home.

Speaking of wives, as a faculty spouse myself, I've been through the tenure ringer, not once, but twice. I've moved to two different places for my husband's job. Moving might still be required even without a tenure system, but it might be possible to imagine treating the job as just a job without the tenure system. There were many days over the 10 years that Mr. Geeky was pursuing tenure when he came home for dinner, then went right back to work. I know many other faculty who didn't even come home for dinner. Besides the physical absence, there was emotional absence as well. Mr. Geeky was pretty good about this, but many aren't. Although I'm not unhappy with the choices we made as a family, the whole tenure process is extraordinarily hard on families, including living separately to forcing much of the household upkeep to the spouse to not even being able to pursue a family in the first place. The problems of work-life balance are not unique to academe, of course, but it presents problems that are often not found in the "regular" workforce, many tolerated in pursuit of the reward of tenure.

From the perspective of a staff member, tenure can create tensions between faculty and staff. Tenure often gives faculty a sense of entitlement that causes them to behave badly toward the staff. Staff often don't understand the tenure process and the pressure faculty feel which they may project onto the staff. Most staff think of their jobs as just jobs so they don't get someone who pursues their job as their life. In turn, faculty can't understand why someone would leave or not be available on weekends. Staff don't know how to react to requests that come in at all hours with too little notice. They don't understand the frustration of faculty when they don't respond pronto. Interestingly, there's often not a huge disparity in salary or benefits between faculty and staff, but in privilege. I don't know that getting rid of the tenure system would alleviate these problems, but it might be a step in the right direction.

I think DD is right. We need to move on.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

This might be offensive

Here's the video I ended up creating, with some help from one of my students. The title is predictive. It really might be offensive, but that's the point.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pushing myself, or blogging while making dinner

Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a conference call with four intelligent and passionate women. We're working on a presentation about combating fear of technology in higher education, specifically fear of web 2.0. Barbara Ganley said something that stuck with me, so much that I couldn't sleep last night. She encouraged us to think about pushing our own thinking, to get out of our own comfort zone. As I was trying to go to sleep last night, I kept thinking about that, and kept thinking about what my comfort zone is. One of the reasons I wanted to do this presentation was that the format was going to be out of my comfort zone. We proposed doing a "digidrama," an interactive and multimedia-laden session. My comfort zone is text. I enjoy writing, even when it's hard. And although from a technical standpoint, I'm comfortable with video, audio and images, from an artistic standpoint, I feel like a complete dolt.

Barbara is always having her students use different media to express their ideas, to bring forth what's in their heads via images and audio and video instead of words. She also has them working with multiple media at the same time: words with audio, audio with pictures, etc. So, I tossed and turned last night thinking about how I might do that myself. I determined that I would bring my digital camera and my video camera to campus and begin documenting some of my thinking about technology and fear.

I was interrupted in my project by another project that fell in my lap this morning. I was asked by our acting CIO, who also serves on the Diversity Council, to help her put together a montage around the issues that have come up on campus over the last few semesters. She brought me some materials and her ideas. A student and I worked on it most of the day. And, boy, was it hard. First, diversity and the racial tensions we've experienced are difficult issues to address in any medium. And second, as I was charged with finding images or words that would spark conversation, I had to be careful not to pull images that were too controversial. Sadly, it's not hard to run into such things online. Third, as I started to put things together, a story kind of emerged and so I had to work to get the story "right" as I saw it emerging.

Although I'm disappointed that I couldn't tackle my own presentation while I was gung ho, I think putting this project together was a real opportunity to begin wrestling with the media. If it's possible, I'm even more gung ho than I was before.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Digital Resource Use

Last night, I made my way through this article on the use of digital resources by humanities and social sciences faculty. There was a considerable amount of food for thought, some good, some not so good. I was reading it with an eye toward finding a clue as to how to improve our own services. The study generally asks the question "What do faculty want?"

One finding that bears out my personal experience is the presence of personal collections. Many faculty have a huge collection of slides, digital images, maps, etc. that sit in file cabinets and boxes in their office and which they dig out when working on their classes. Often they add to the collection as they're working, making it even larger. On the one hand, I totally understand why they have these. They've been built over years of teaching. On the other hand, these collections tend to be disorganized, poorly labeled and available only to the one faculty member. There's likely duplicated effort across the discipline with several faculty at several institutions holding similar (or the same) materials. There's possibly even such duplicated effort within an institution. It's not a sustainable model for the faculty member to simply continue developing their own collection, often using resources (such as several staff members) that could be used to develop an institutional collection. There's no easy solution for this, but this is something I'm really interested in working on and am still looking for possibilities.

The reasons for faculty non-use of digital resources is also interesting. Most cite some form of lack of time and a feeling that using these resources does not fit with their methods of teaching. The time factor I've heard over and over again, but no one has fully articulated the idea that digital resources don't fit with their teaching style though I certainly sense that much of the time. The quotes in this section are interesting, with faculty saying that the Internet is dumbing down our culture, that students need to learn to read books, etc. There is a sense that many feel these resources would substitute rather than supplement or complement text resources. There's some work to do here, I think, to educate faculty on how such resources can be used to teach the very things they're afraid they inhibit: critical thinking, argumentation, and reading and writing skills.

Some of the barriers, too, are familiar: lack of access, equipment or software not robust enough to use certain resources, fear of breaking something or something not working in the classroom. I certainly think there's a role for us to play in helping to provide appropriate resources or find funding to do so. I also think we need to do a better job of providing training and support. Problem is, we have to do so in a way that meets faculty needs and schedules.

In general, I found this report enlightening and hope to use it to help me think about ways to provide resources and support for faculty. One section of the conclusion, however, rubbed me the wrong way, perhaps because it painted us techies with the same broad brush the authors had accused us of painting faculty with:
The fact that the most-cited reason for not using digital resources was that they simply do not mesh with faculty members' pedagogies is an important finding that has implications for those who want to increase technology adoption in the academy. Should faculty—who we can assume know more about teaching their subject than nonspecialists—shoehorn their approaches into a technical developer's ideas of what is valuable or what is the correct pedagogical approach?
That last question is a doozy. On the one hand, yes, faculty know more about their subject area than we techies. On the other hand, they may not know much about pedagogy. Sure, they may have developed through trial and error, workshops and their own reading, good pedagogical skills. But most faculty are not trained in pedagogy. They've picked it up along the way. Many technologists are trained in pedagogy, and keep up with current research. I don't like the idea of shoehorning either. It's why I don't like course management systems, which tend to shoehorn. Most good technologists don't apply a one-size-fits-all approach. I'm a little taken aback that the researchers would make the assumption that they do. And I think that most try to help faculty in whatever way they can, but often faculty don't take advantage of the support and resources that are available to them. As I said above, perhaps we need to rethink how we provide that support, but faculty need to meet us halfway. It's a challenging problem and one I'm happy to be wrestling with.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

And we're back . . .

Boy, it was hard to go back to work today. My eyes are bloodshot. My head is heavy. And it's only 8 o'clock. I kept myself alive by drinking lots of caffeine and busying myself with tasks that didn't require a huge amount of thought. I stayed offline the entire break and so I came back this morning and marked all of my feeds as read--mostly.

Two things started to get to me over the break: the amazing amount of clutter in my house and my lack of exercise. We had my family over for Thanksgiving and of course, did a major cleaning of the house. As we did so, I realized how much stuff we've accumulated. We have a small house, so it's very noticeable. We now have furniture and all kinds of stuff to get rid of and it's not easy. Purple Heart comes for clothes about once a month. Given how much the kids are growing, we almost always have something for them. But the bigger stuff is more complicated. We could pay a service, but that's kind of pricey. I've called Salvation Army, but it takes weeks, so we're not on the schedule yet. Today, I cleaned out some of the kids' toys and old videos. Much of that can go to Purple Heart too. I threw away a lot. I've vowed to spend 30 minutes a day clearing stuff out.

Another problem with the clutter is what comes into the house and what we generate. There's mail and school papers. I've tried different systems and I just haven't found one that works. I think I just need to suck it up and deal with it at least once a week. And then there's recycling and trash. I can totally sympathize with Anjali's post from last week. We do have recycling pickup, but it's a crazy schedule. They do one thing a day, twice a week. So, one Monday is paper, then plastic on Thursday. The following Monday is glass, then cans on Thursday. They used to print a schedule, but they quit doing that, so I'm totally confused. I seem to always miss plastic so it's piling up, and they don't do colored glass. You have to take that in. It's crazy.

The exercising problem is somewhat related to the clutter problem. I am not a hearty person. I don't hold up well in cold weather. I used to, but I've become wimpy in my old age. So, I want to exercise inside. I could join a gym, but I'd rather be in the comfort of my own home. Problem is, I have no place to work out. There's not enough room in any room in our house. We've shifted furniture around to the point where nearly every square inch is covered in furniture. I may have to cave and go to the gym. Sigh.

It doesn't help that I was completely slothful over the break. I ate. I drank. I watched football. I did not run around, exercise or tackle the now four-foot high pile of laundry. One of these days, my house *will* be clean.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A smorgasboard of links for Thanksgiving

I'm too tired to write an actual post, so here's some links, with a tiny bit of commentary:
There may be blogging later. I've got some posts percolating, so if you're bored over the holiday, feel free to stop by.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday

Over the weekend I got sucked into Desperate Crossing, a History Channel special on the Mayflower. How factual the whole thing was, I don't know, but they did have quite a few historians who didn't just speculate about how the whole Plymouth colony and the first Thanksgiving went down. They drew on primary texts and knowledge about both the Puritans who came to America and the Wampanaog people who lived in the area where they settled. In many ways, the docudrama undermined the myths I'd been taught as a child (and which are still being taught to my children) and I appreciated that. The whole Thanksgiving story had always felt like a story to me, akin to the Greek and Roman myths.

This morning, Slate magazine has an article about people getting all up in arms about the de-Christianization of Thanksgiving. It's clear from the docudrama and from the Slate article, however, that religion was not the central focus of the first Thanksgiving celebration. It was a harvest celebration and also a celebration of two very different groups of people putting their differences aside to be thankful for the fruits of their hard labor. As I was watching, I thought that this was a rare moment where our ancestors decided not to conquer and pillage but to try to work toward reconciliation and understanding. And so, I want this Thanksgiving to be about that impetus that we seem to have lost somewhere along the way. It should remind us that we are capable of reconciliation and diplomacy, of respecting differences, and of appreciating what we have and sharing it with others. Unlike Christmas, at Thanksgiving, we give no gifts except the gift of company and conversation. Just before the bitter cold of winter strikes, we sit down to a meal, warm and filling, with people we love around us. What could be more perfect than that and what could be more hopeful.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It passed

Ugh, the bill with the horrid p2p provisions passed the house without a word about those provisions.

For further reading:
I'm disgusted.

Update: Didn't pass the house--just the committee. But the vote was unanimous. Sigh.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Obama is the Geek's candidate

Obama unveiled a technology plan yesterday. Does anyone else have a technology plan, other than to protect the RIAA, the MPAA and the phone companies? Hmmm, don't think so. Here's one of my favorite ideas in his plan:

Obama wants the public to be able to comment on the White House Web site for five days before legislation is signed.

That would be cool. What I like about the plan in general is that it's about embracing what's already going on in technology and making plans for innovating, so that we don't fall behind as a country. It's both technically and economically savvy.

I'm still undecided about who I like among the Democrats. It's likely the primary will be so late here that it won't matter who I like, but I'd like to be prepared anyway. I figure over Christmas break, I'll start thinking about it more deeply. But I'm liking what Obama's doing so far.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The DMCA and The New HEA

I am feeling a bit like New Kid today--pretty cranky--and I was going to write something random, but I wanted to comment a bit more on the proposed House legislation that would require colleges and universities to provide legal options for downloading music and require them to have a plan to prevent illegal downloading. Dean Dad already expresses some good reasons why the bill is a bad idea. His commenters, however, don't seem to completely understand the law nor how networks work enough to know how crazy this really is.

One commenter notes that higher ed moves too slowly for this to get implemented. By the time it gets out of committee, they suggest, the provision will be dead. Unfortunately, at many institutions, technology decisions such as these don't go through faculty committee. Software and hardware purchases (big ones) are made all the time without any faculty input. Sometimes the IT department may try to get input and the faculty say, whatever, we don't understand what you're saying so just do what you need to do. This varies by school, obviously, but I'm in touch with enough schools to know it's not unusual.

Another commenter suggests that students should get the music from the library. If they rip that music and make a copy for themselves, that's illegal. At least as I interpret the law. I also feel that copying a whole book for yourself would be illegal.

Another commenter says "If somebody is breaking the law, call the police. Throw the book at them. If they're not, get the hell out and leave them alone." This is more complicated than it might seem. When someone's "caught" "downloading," they're actually not caught downloading at all. They're caught sharing their music. Most p2p programs having a shared folder which is "on" by default. Some programs ask where your music is stored and share that instead or in addition to the folder where the downloads go. It's possible to have not downloaded anything, in fact, and be sharing your whole music collection for others to download. And that is illegal. Secondly, when someone is caught sharing, all the RIAA or other agent has is an ip address and a time-date stamp for when the activity allegedly took place. They need the colleges to provide them with identifying information in order to "call the police." Right now, the DMCA protects all isps from being liable for illegal activity on their network as long as they forward any notices about the activity to the user associated with the ip address. This is why as the commenter says, "it seems to be the college's responsibility to do something about it." The way the law is written and interpreted now, if we don't, they will come sue us. This has not been really tested yet, so no one knows for sure if that's what would happen, but that's the assumption. One way this could work is for the RIAA to be required to submit subpoenas for every violation. That's a much more time-consuming and costly process for them, so they're not inclined to do that. From our perspective the work load is the same whether we get a subpoena or not.

Who knows what they mean by providing legal alternatives for downloading. It could very well mean providing access to iTunes by just installing it on the public machines. Or it could mean requiring a subscription service. Preventing illegal downloading would be difficult and costly. Dean Dad's right, both of these would be onerous in some places. Maybe some of the richer schools would be able to do this but many schools couldn't afford it. I concur with Dean Dad: "I'd rather spend public aid to higher education on scientific research and faculty and libraries and tutoring and daycare and textbooks than on Napster."

Monday, November 12, 2007

My own Shakespeare quote!

Via Musey, this tickled me.

William Shakespeare

A geekymom! A geekymom! My kingdom for a geekymom!

Which work of Shakespeare was the original quote from?

Get your own quotes:

Congress in Entertainment Industry's Pocket

Democrats have included in the latest higher education bill a provision to punish colleges and universities who do not "develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property as well as a plan to explore technology-based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity." Congress has been trying to get something like this through for quite a while. I wrote about this back in March. I don't know what's sadder--that Democrats are the ones pushing for this or that they're sneaking it into a bill that hopes to lower college costs. Requiring colleges to purchase expensive subscription services or implement a technical solution is not going to help lower costs. Many colleges already have trouble keeping technologically current and many of the solutions require certain levels of infrastructure to be in place. I know a few colleges and universities are fighting the RIAA, but most are complying with requests that come in. I'm disappointed that our congresspeople would be so obvious about where their loyalties lie. I'm off to write letters.

More about this bill can be found here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A rare mom post

For the last week and a half, I've been single parenting. Mr. Geeky was first in VA, returned, next day went to Seattle, returned, next day went to Buffalo and has now returned. During this time, Geeky Boy was grounded from video games, so had to find other ways to entertain himself. (For the record, we've now seriously limited his game playing time.) Instead of feeling completely stressed out, I was actually able to enjoy having the kids to myself. Last weekend, for example, we went to an early soccer game, then went out for breakfast and went to another soccer game. Later that day, we played board games and watched tv together. Every night this week, we've eaten dinner and watched the Simpsons and Family Guy together. The kids also did a fair amount of reading. Geeky Boy finished a book and we went to the book store to get the rest of the books in the series. He's now almost through the third one. I got Geeky Girl a couple of Ramona books and she's doing a book report on one of them. She doesn't love them as much as I did. Which is kind of sad, but maybe she'll find other books she loves.

It's been nice to hang out with the kids and not feel like they're "in the way." Especially when the kids were younger, whenever I was on my own, I'd feel slightly insane by the end of my time with them. Trying to manage feeding, bathing, and putting to bed two kids all by myself after a long day at work completely stressed me out. And sometimes it wasn't the work itself but just the mental pressure of knowing I was on my own. I also think there's a little bit of changing my perspective here. Instead of thinking about how much work dealing with the kids is, I just went with the flow and found opportunities to make it fun--like having breakfast between soccer games. I tried to stay in the moment and not worry about what I needed to get done or what I was going to be facing at work the next day.

It's certainly good to have Mr. Geeky home. We all missed him. But I think I'll miss having the kids to myself.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Shameless promotion

One of my photos got picked up and used by Schmap, a pretty cool web 2.0 guide. Check it out.

An Academic Facebook

Via the Wired Campus Blog, I found Pronetos, a facebook-like app for sharing research and connecting with scholars. I like the look and feel of it. It's missing some of the more fun elements of social networking, but it's definitely got potential. Of course, I set up an account. Like I needed another social networking account . . .

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Faculty like digital? Really?

I'm a bit skeptical of this announcement. Sure, I'll grant that many faculty like 24/7 access to digital resources and that they like the searchability of them, as evidenced by my last post. But I'm not so sure I agree with their conclusions that "faculty members want portable reading devices and more electronic content." Obviously, those conclusions support their business model. And I think their numbers may be skewed by the fact that the solicited survey respondents via their web site. Faculty using the ebrary web site are obviously already using lots of digital resources and probably likely to use more. I'd be happy to be proven wrong, but it doesn't really jibe with what I hear from people.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Another kind of digital divide

This article from the Chronicle is one of the many reasons I'm a proponent of Open Access. Patterson explains how not having access to digital databases has made her research more difficult. She also explains how some researchers simply abandon certain areas because access to materials that would support those areas are non-existent at their home institution. She sums this problem up nicely at the end:
the digital divide between the ivory-tower haves and have-nots will be a defining one for our generation of scholars. It exacerbates inequalities already present and makes it that much harder for scholars hoping to enter the larger intellectual debate on an equal footing.
I'd say this is true for students as well, both undergrad and grad. Go read the whole thing. It's worth it.

The Internet is Making us Stupid and it starts in the Classroom

It's blame the Internet for everything day! I don't even know where to start. I guess I'll start with the Paper of Record's article on Teacher vs. Technology. I haven't seen one of these in a while, but the tone in this one is particularly galling. The author calls a professor who smashes a cellphone with a hammer (a staged incident to make a point) a hero. Seriously? A hero for banning cellphones? My stock argument is that in order to keep students' attention, you actually need to do something engaging in class. The author neatly counters that argument:

Naturally, there will be many students and no small number of high-tech and progressive-ed apologists ready to lay the blame on boring lessons. One of the great condemnations in education jargon these days, after all, is the “teacher-centered lesson.”

“I’m so tired of that excuse,” said Professor Bugeja, may he live a long and fruitful life. “The idea that subject matter is boring is truly relative. Boring as opposed to what? Buying shoes on eBay? The fact is, we’re not here to entertain. We’re here to stimulate the life of the mind.”

I'm sorry, but time and time again, educators have said that students need to participate actively, not sit and listen to a lecture. It's difficult for most people to learn that way and there are very few lecturers good enough to engage every single student in a 300-person lecture. The author does not even begin to admit this possibility or discuss effective pedagogy at all. I, too, want my students to listen and participate and don't like cell phones ringing in my classroom or have students Facebooking when they should be listening, but you can't just blame the technology and be done with it. Here are some thoughts for solutions just off the top of my head, some of them inspired by faculty at my institution actually doing these things:
  • No more giant lectures. Seriously, most people get lost in these things. Limit them to 50 people. Yeah, I know it's expensive, but we're talking about educating our youth here.
  • Barring getting rid of lectures, how about making students responsible for the material immediately rather than just on midterms and finals? Maybe they have to post something that evening to a blog or turn in a response. Maybe you begin the following lecture with a quiz on the previous one as well as a quiz on the reading for this one. Or, here's a technical solution. Call on the students with laptops to look things up during class and report back. Only lecture for part of the class and then put the students into groups. Make the students do the lectures. All kinds of possibilities here.
  • Have students watch/listen to lectures before class. With iTunesU and YouTube, one could easily use last year's recorded lecture or otherwise prerecorded material and assign it ahead of time. In class, students would be required to do something more active with the material they just listened to--an experiment, have a discussion, etc.
  • Find ways to put the technology to use. I agree with the author that technology for most students is about entertainment, not learning. Then we need to teach them how to use that technology for learning. You may not find an educational use for Facebook, but you can certainly find uses for the Internet. Of course, if you're not using technology for your own intellectual work, this might be a hard one. So maybe you need to do some of your own learning.
I'm sure there are more possibilities. Readers, anything you've done? Any suggestions you have?

As for the Internet making us stupid, see this Salon article on how we're all living in an echo chamber. I thought it was going to be very Andrew Keen like, but it's much more reasonable and thoughtful. Worth reading, especially after the snarky NY Times article. I have more to say, but that other article sucked the life force out of me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

DMCA, the RIAA, and Education

This week's Tech Therapy (yes, I listen) is an interview with Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA. About halfway through, Scott Carlson asks a question I sent in (I'm identified by name and school) about whether colleges and universities are doing enough to meet the DMCA requirements. He couches his answer by saying that some are doing a good job and some are not. He focuses on education as something that colleges should be doing more of since they are, after all, institutions of learning. He sees it as the colleges job to educate students about illegal downloading, something he actually raises in the question before. He discusses the way colleges crack down on plagiarism but now downloading. He says colleges should teach values and ethics. And I have to disagree a bit. Sure, most colleges try to instill ethics and values, but that's not our main job. We teach disciplines. I know our student affairs office tries to deal with some of these issues, but really we're not their parents. There's only so much we can do. And I think we probably do a better job than larger institutions. I do think we could probably do more to educate students about this issue, but I have another job to focus on, so it's not going to be my top priority. And I don't think it should be--just as it shouldn't be my top priority to educate students about drinking or safe sex.

Meanwhile, some institutions are fighting the RIAA's tactics in court. And others are complaining that content owners, like the RIAA, have too much control over current copyright law and fair use is disappearing. I think that the battle between colleges and the RIAA is indirectly about fair use. The RIAA and other content owners continue to try to lobby lawmakers to extend copyright restrictions and make using materials illegal even in educational settings. They don't seem willing to compromise on this issue and so colleges and universities don't feel like doing any more than the bare minimum to follow through on RIAA requests to sue their students.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Is your work your life?

Reconstructed after a browser crash. Ugh. Using ScribeFire instead of Google. Sigh. Usually I save as I go, but failed to so this time.

Anyway, I will not be able to elegantly retie all the threads I had going, but I'm going to try anyway. I'm normally a David (GTD) Allen fan, but today he has a post that I think I partially disagree with. There are two things I was immediately reminded of as I read this post. First, I thought of my post from earlier this morning, a post that was inspired by my beginning to make a list of all the house stuff. For now that list is separate from the work list and is actually on paper only. Second, I thought of the recent controversy spurred by Dr. Crazy's announcement of making a cut for a job and her further explanation. In that discussion, very nicely summarized by Leslie Madsen-Brooks here, the issue of how much t-t faculty should be devoted to their institutions was central. Why did I think of these two things? Well, I realized that a) my house/personal life deserves some real attention and b) I have to balance that with my commitment to my career. This is a tough balance for academics, I think, one that institutions take advantage of and one that is obviously ingrained in the culture as evidenced by the discussion at Dr. Crazy's. Most academics care about their work. Whether that translates into caring about the institution or not is another story. Many conflate the two, which is what ultimately causes problems. It is a classic tale, often seen in academic novels, where an academic devotes so much time to his/her work that he/she neglects his/her family (or never collects one to begin with). Despair ensues and sometimes the academic realizes that the personal part of life should have received more attention. That "work" is sometimes not about the institution. Sometimes it's about ego and self-importance. This is often seen in the superstars who hop from job to job, usually because they're being wooed by every top institution. Most academics fall in the middle--committed to work, but not neglectful of a personal life and/or pursuing personal career goals while being mindful of commitment to a particular institution. As some of Dr. Crazy's commenters note, institutions often increase work loads and expectations in such a way as to make this middle position impossible.

As I started reading Allen's post, I thought he would show a path out of this dilemma by trumpeting work-life balance or something along those lines. He was talking about putting your personal and work lists together and seemed to be suggesting a way to combine these two areas in a way that makes sense for you. He says this makes people uncomfortable. So he offered a possible underlying reason: "Perhaps it's really the bigger question - you mean it's OK to focus
with as much rigor and integrity on my personal life as on my
professional stuff?" I thought, yay, personal life gets the attention it deserves.

He goes on to talk about how we've only recently separated work and home life and quotes at length from a Division President of a Fortune 50 corporation who encourages integrating your whole life, which is messy, he says, but more realistic. What Allen really proposes in the end is that you set up a home office as your central workspace. I thought this was a cop-out. I realize he focuses mostly on making people productive, but in the end, he still seems to mean work productive, not life productive. Why not encourage people to do some of their "personal" stuff at work--within reason? For example, I need to make phone calls to contractors to do some small tasks around the house. These calls need to be made during business hours which is when I'm at work. Why not encourage these things? What about encouraging vacations to recharge? Taking a single day to take a long weekend with the family or just to decompress? Or why not mention ways to negotiate a flexible schedule or telecommuting situation? I mean if our personal life deserves "rigor and integrity," shouldn't we be allowed to devote some of our time at work to achieving that rigor and integrity. I'm guessing that the clients that he works with--mostly upper-level management--just do these things. (Or maybe they have people or spouses for that.) They don't need to ask like some folks do. (I'm sure this is somewhat foreign to faculty who don't separate quite the way we 9-5-ers do.)

And by the way, we already have two home offices and I know most academics have offices at home. We're already decompartmentalizing. Now we need to balance.

Working 24/7

As I was gearing up for the weekend and planning how I was going to juggle multiple soccer games, an evening out, and general housekeeping, I realized that essentially I could work 24/7 and still not get everything done. Rather than being discouraged by this, it was actually comforting to know. I have always been of the mind that if I spent just a little more time cleaning this or organizing that, my house would be perfectly neat, my bills would always get paid on time and my family would always still have quality time together. This is so not true. In part, it's because of our family's own habits. We aren't good at putting things where they go or consistently marking things on calendars or giving enough notice for the school bake sale. In part, it's because we've been gradually downsizing our living spaces while accumulating more stuff. In part, it's because both Mr. Geeky and I put in overtime in our other jobs. All of those things are mutable, but not in the short term. I've decided just to accept that it's likely these things will never change and so I should just work around it.

My feeling that I'd need to be constantly working to keep up with housework increased as I actually tackled some tasks for the weekend. I even made a list. I crossed things off the list and yet still wasn't that much closer to house perfection. I reorganized some cabinets, washed three loads of dishes, five loads of laundry (and actually put them away), put away the summer clothes (finally), shopped for winter clothes for the kids, and went grocery shopping. I also managed to play board games with the kids, attend two soccer games, take the kids out for breakfast, go out with friends, and watch football, none of which I could do if I were aiming for house perfection.

I could have done more this morning in the hour and a half I've already been awake, but then I couldn't have read the news and blogs or written this blog post. Priorities, priorities. Sure, it'd be nice to look around and see no clutter, but I think my brain would be completely empty at that point.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Links to my brain

I've been linking to articles of interest to me of late, as part of my desire and need to use this blog in a more intellectually engaging way. There are some interesting developments in the technology world that I'd like to link to and write about--but those will have to wait. I'm going to link to my brain right now and boy, I wish I could provide the urls because I'm sure my thoughts won't be complete.

I'm giving a talk today, as I mentioned earlier this week, teasing out the differences between course management systems and social software. In preparing for the talk, I've started thinking about many different things, many of which won't make it into the talk, of course. I've been thinking about why I like this web 2.0 stuff so much and why I, and many others, subscribe to a "small pieces, loosely joined" philosophy when it comes to educational technology. On the flip side of that, I've been trying to figure out why others subscribe to the enterprise software philosophy of something like a course management system. I like autonomy. I don't like being told what to do, and I think many educators don't much like being told what to do. Web 2.0 tools allow you to pick and choose what you want to use. Many of them are built to be interoperable, so that you can piece them together in one space if you want. For example, I connected Twitter and Remember the Milk, and get reminders about my to-do list via my Twitter account. I also tied RTM to my Google home page, where I have a summary of my email and my RSS feeds and what's on TV tonight. If I were a student, I think I'd do the same thing. I'd love RSS feeds of my class schedule and assignments and those would be right next to my Facebook widget. Or conversely, I could fee my class schedule and assignments into Facebook. That's the beauty of Web 2.0. You get to choose how to mix it up.

With most enterprise software, you can't. (Here's a great post about how clunky most enterprise software is.) You have to use their tools and if they suck, you can't bring in your own. There's no way I could make Blackboard my home page. I could include RSS feeds, but I can't include email or other widgets. Maybe I'll try to create what I have in iGoogle with Blackboard. I might accomplish it, but it will probably be difficult. And I can't change the look of it. In something like iGoogle or with a blog or most other Web 2.0 software, I can make it look however I want. I can change the colors, rearrange the display, choose a different profile icon. None of that is really available in a CMS or most other enterprise software. I'm stuck with a small selection of colors and certain aspects are unable to be changed. In our CMS, it's the header.

Basically, I not only want to personalize the look and feel of the software I use, but I want to use the set of tools that makes me most efficient. If it takes a million clicks to add an RSS feed, then I'm not going to use that tool for RSS feeds. I'm going to use something that takes one click. It may seem silly, but each click is wasted time. When you're trying collect and read and digest lots of information, saving that little bit of time--over a million times a day--becomes very important. And, as I've always said, if I have to look at a computer screen all day, I want it to look nice. I don't want it to suck the life force out of me with its industrial look.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bloggers may be journalists but

Since we're losing our right to freedom of speech, it may not matter. A Plain Dealer blogger was fired because of pressure from a politician. This is just sad.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bloggers are journalists

A federal court says so. The determining factor, the court said, was not any kind of title assigned to the blogger ahead of time or the format, but the content of the writing. Booya!

Anxiety over online education

The NY Times offers an article that walks a fine line between exuberance and outright fear toward the prospect of online education. The article points out that 1 in 5 college students took a course online last fall. Traditional four-year private colleges, of course, don't really do online education. There is some fear that the surge in online education, spurred in part by Congress allowing colleges to qualify for financial aid even if less than half their courses are taught at actual campuses, will lead to more diploma mills. But most of the fear is about the loss of some kind of idyllic view of college life:
Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers wonders what will happen, should campuses go exuberantly online, to the intangibles — the late-night bull sessions, the serendipitous strolls with professors, the chance to feel one’s oats in student government? And what will one more switch to electronic conversation do to our need for intimate human connections, he asks?

I like face-to-face conversations as much as the next person, but I think there are other opportunities that online education allows that can be similar to the ones of a residential college. Why can't late-night bull sessions occur with your neighbors or spouse, for example? Or they might happen online in a chat room. Strolls with professors? Again, perhaps a virtual stroll in Second Life or maybe the prof pops his or her head into the chat room on occasion. What if taking classes online allows you to volunteer for your local political candidate or community organization? Who says that electronic conversation isn't intimate? I have more human connections online than I do in real life. Some might interpret that as a bad thing, and I think it would be if I didn't have any connections in real life. I feel the two "worlds" as it were are symbiotic. I need both.

Here's another point of resistance. The fact that in an online course, the possibility for students to learn as much from each other is increased:
They [students in an online class] point out that online postings are more reasoned and detailed than
off-the-cuff classroom observations. Students learn as much from one
another’s postings, informed by the real business world, as they do
from instructors, they say.
The dynamics are completely different in an online class. There's no professor standing at the front of the room. Just that alone is enough for many students to open up to the possibility that they have as much to offer as the professor.

I honestly don't know what the landscape is going to look like in ten years. Will schools like my slac move into online education at all? Will there be a backlash against technology that sends lots of students to colleges that focus on face to face education? If the costs of that education continue to rise at the rate they are now, I doubt this will happen. A lot of schools are pricing themselves out of range for many college students. Of course, I don't want online education to be delivered at a cost that prevents paying the faculty well or providing a good education otherwise. So there's still lots to work out in this area. But irrational fear about the loss of human contact is not going to help us wrestle with those issues.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Two videos to make you (re) think information and education

First, there's this video on the Information R/evolution:

I'm in the middle of reading Everything is Miscellaneous, which I highly recommend to anyone who regularly creates, stores, uses, or interacts with information of any kind--which is almost all of us. This video in combination with the book are really hitting home. There are challenges, of course, with information being less neatly organized. But the biggest challenge is to the idea of information organization itself. We are the organizers, not some group of gatekeepers.

Then, there's this video about Today's Student.

Some very interesting information here. One thing that I thought about was the way that small liberal arts colleges really are positioned well to take advantage of information technology tools. Larger colleges and universities seem to be focused on using technology for more efficient information delivery, not for finding ways to engage students and create collaborative learning opportunities.

cross posted at ETC@BMC

Monday, October 29, 2007

Course Management and Social Software

Later this week, I'm facilitating a discussion about the relationship between course management systems and social software. In my world, where course management means Blackboard, the two don't relate together very well at all, imho. We have a third-party plugin for blogs and wikis in Blackboard, which quite a few people are using. I'd like to gather or poll these people to see if they're finding the tool useful or not. My impression is that they feel it does what it does and they don't expect much out of it. I don't know of anyone using an external blog or wiki for their courses, though I have had people do that in the past.

My thoughts are, right now, that social software is the antithesis of a CMS. It's open. It's about sharing and collaborating with a wide group of people. Social software, to me, also involves personalization to some degree. People personalize their profiles, their blogs, etc. with their own look and feel. It's a way of saying, "I'm part of a group, but I'm still unique." A CMS, even in the social software arena, is about uniformity. Everything and everyone looks the same. This is my own bias, of course. But my own bias is also that education is not about developing students to all look the same, so I think the underlying technology should enable differentiation instead of uniformity. Too often, in CMS's and other software, we force people to do the same thing, to look the same. I think it's okay if we use the same software to simplify support, but I think that software needs to allow flexibility.

I'd love to hear my reader's thoughts about this. Do any of you use social software in conjunction with a CMS? Successfully? Do any of you use social software within a CMS? Just social software? Why? If you haven't used social software (blogs, wikis, facebook, etc.) in your teaching, why not? I'll post notes or maybe even the whole presentation after it's done.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Educause 2007: Some first thoughts

I haven't had time to completely debrief my brain about Educause 2007. A lot happened there and I had a lot of really compelling conversations. I ran into this post on HASTAC about the conference, which starts to get at some of what I'm thinking as well. The last few sentences/questions are at the heart of what many of us are trying to figure out:

And are my pals in Academic Technology ceding too much ground as they
institutionalize via CMS's and server virtualization tools and custom
database design? Or is this where they step aside and provide support
to a vision articulated elsewhere? Workshops and training can provide
software savvy, but what does it mean to be a 21st century knowledge
producer? Who decides and what do we teach? Before Academic Technology
becames so institutionalized, way back in 90s a decade ago, we hoped to
think we were part of the revolution. Does maturity = reform, not
The answer to the first question is yes. I think that there is great tension currently in many computing departments between the need to become an enterprise operation vs. the need to remain agile and flexible. It's easier to go enterprise than to try to figure out what people really need and meet those needs. The idea is if you're meeting the needs of the majority, then everything is a ok. I'm understand the idea behind the second question about stepping aside, but I kind of bristle at it because I think the underlying subtext is that an academic technologist cannot be a part of the vision. In fact, I think both the questions have an us vs. them quality to them--a quality that was quite tangible at the conference. I think we really need to get to a point where academic technologists and faculty are on the same team and thinking together about the possibilities for 21st century knowledge. In fact, there was a great session about these issues, which I hope the facilitator will blog soon. I, too, have lots to say about this complex issue. Consider this a first volley.