Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Off the Ivy-League Track

A Fighter for Colleges That Have Everything but Status - New York Times

I have other things on my mind, but I ran into this article this morning which mentioned my own alma mater as a place that changes lives. I'm not sure if that was true of my school 20 years ago, but maybe it was. In many ways, it did change my life, but I don't think I took full advantage of all it had to offer. I certainly appreciated the close attention I usually got from faculty. I enjoyed the way my classes seemed to have connections to each other and that faculty enjoyed talking about (and understood!) these connections. Even though I felt kind of jaded about school by the time I was a senior and considered myself active only in the fringe groups (theater and writing and the newspaper) rather than being part of student government, I still feel a pretty close connection to the school. I have thought seriously about setting up a scholarship with them (for women in computer science, of course). And I've been generally impressed with the work they're doing. So maybe I can't pinpoint precise moments where my education there changed me, but I still value that education today and it still influences me in many ways.

I did apply to an Ivy League school and a big name school, but I got waitlisted at both places and eventually rejected. Though I was a bit disappointed, I think things turned out fine. As I think about where my kids might go to college, it's reassuring to know that smaller schools with lesser reputations might be a good choice for them. With all the hype and competition around here, it's hard not to be pressured to consider just the ivies and the big name schools. In many ways, shouldn't college change your life? Isn't that the whole point?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Can you be a leader with no one to lead?

Ever since the Educause Management Institute, I've been thinking about this issue. I was one of a handful of people who didn't currently have Manager or Director or some other "leadership" title at the conference. At first, I thought this would be a problem, that I wouldn't have anything to talk about. It turns out I was wrong. I came away with a lot of good ideas about being a leader even if you have no one whose job it is to follow you. I have actually considered myself a leader for a while now. I think it started in grad school when I found myself serving as president of the Graduate Student Association during a very challenging time. We had a new chair, and, shortly after his tenure began, one of our faculty members was shot by one of our grad students. Now, I didn't do anything heroic or stand at a podium and give some kind of grand speech. Instead, I had a lot of conversations--with faculty, with students, and with deans. We had group conversations. And eventually, we had a joint gathering of the faculty and students to kick off the new year and to try to move on from our tragedy.

As I think about where I am now, I think in similar terms. Geeky Girl asked me in the car yesterday if I wanted to be president of the United States. I laughed, and told her no. She asked me why. And I explained that I didn't feel I had the experience or the money (the money probably being more of an issue, sadly). I don't see myself as that kind of leader. I see myself in a quieter, smaller role, leading a smaller group of people. I see myself doing what I did as president of the GSA: having conversations, guiding people, offering advice, saying what I think to people in power. I hope in some small way that what I do inspires and motivates others. I see some evidence that it does. I see students pursuing technology careers as a consequence of their working with me. I ran a successful conference last week. I've written articles that have gotten a good response. I get regular emails from people around the country asking for advice. And I tend to forge ahead into new frontiers fairly regularly. I try to be generous with what I have to give--knowledge, information, assistance, connections. I believe that generosity is an important aspect of leadership, which flies in the face of some standard business practices which say that to be a leader, one must use people as stair steps on the way to the top.

I would still like the title to go with my vision of myself as a leader, but I realize now that the title doesn't necessarily confer the qualities of leadership on someone. And, I can still be a leader without the title.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blogging, accountability, transparency, and other sticky issues

Over the last week, I've been reading the comments on my last post and a couple of other posts related to mine. It's heartening to hear that people want me to continue writing. I know that many of the people who say so also understand the difficulties of writing openly. I have said to myself over the last few days that I will write, but I will write without fear. That doesn't mean that I don't expect to be held accountable for what I say. I do. Which is why I will write carefully still. Confused, yet?

Let's go back to the Amanda/Melissa issue for a minute. I read their blogs on occasion. As Tim said, much of the time I enjoy them. But let's be honest, they often write in a way that turns the more sensitive among us off. When I read what had led to Amanda's ultimate resignation from the Edwards' campaign, my first reaction was that of course it caused problems. The key posts in question were point for point rebuttals of a FAQ from a Catholic premarital class. While the arguments Amanda makes seem reasonable, it's often the language she uses when she makes them that is problematic. For example, she calls one item a "pile of nonsense" and the second in the series begins with an image of Mary and God that is extremely sexualized. Now, I'm an atheist, so I am not going to be offended by these things, but I could easily see that many people, even those who might agree with her, would be turned off. Neither deserved the attacks they received, but I could see how someone might have been angered by what she wrote. Collin wrote a little about such methods of arguing, labeling them polemic. It's something I see far too much of on both sides of the political blogosphere. And while it may get the extremists on either end fired up, it doesn't do much for people looking for real solutions.

The issue, of course, as both Collin and Tim, point out is that if what we say here matters, then we are accountable for it. Tim says that we can't be surprised when people outside of our normal realm of blog readers (i.e. the mainstream) are upset with what we've written. He goes on:

Blogs are not greasy kid’s stuff. They’re informal, they’re spontaneous, they’re freer in some ways than the mainstream media, not just because of the genre’s evolving expectations but because of their technological and economic character. But they matter, and they should. We can’t suddenly ask that they be dismissed as mere prologue to whatever else we want to do with our voices, our thought, our politics, when the day before we were trying to do something that mattered.

I've come to realize that to some extent, I had wanted to write anonymously because I wanted to rail about some things that I felt strongly about. I wanted a place to vent. But then, I began to realize that venting wasn't the answer. I didn't want to write polemic, even though it might momentarily feel good. I wanted to frame my arguments in a way that would reach beyond the people who might agree with the polemic version of the argument. Lately, however, I felt constrained against doing even that. I felt I'd lost a place to argue from because I feared retribution of some kind. In part, that was just me being paranoid. In part, though, it's realistic. I recognize the weight that words can carry. My words here paint a certain picture of who I am and what I believe in. Some people might take that to be the whole picture. However, I think I can support everything I've written here. And I think I can continue to support it.

When I think about the people whose blogs I read regularly who write anonymously, I think most of them write as if they are writing under their own names. They write thoughtfully and carefully. They make reasoned arguments. And while they may vent from time to time about students or their families, that might be the only posts they'd have to excise before going public, and they are few and far between. I have often wished some of these people felt comfortable enough to write publicly, but when you're trying to hide a part of yourself, it's impossible. Some people are hiding their personal self from their professional colleagues. Others are hiding their fuller selves from family or friends. Certainly, my blog isn't a direct transcription of my life. Despite how open I tend to be here, I'm not fully transparent, but I think that's the impression many people get of blogs (something I know Bitch, Ph.D. has talked about a lot). People think that if you're writing in a way that seems honest (which is kind of a generic feature of blogs as opposed to essays and other forms of writing) that they know you, they know what you're like. And I've wondered, for the people who know me, if what I write here reveals something different about me, something they wouldn't expect of me, and if that's a good or bad thing.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that I will continue blogging. A lot of you said things in the comments that hit home with me. I appreciate the reality check. Interestingly, over the last week, I managed to blog every day on the professional blog. Obviously, I need an outlet. I still have things to say.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why am I blogging?

For the last couple of days, I've been thinking about shutting the blog down. I started blogging because I like to write and I felt I had something to say. I still feel like I have something to say, but I feel I have less freedom to say it. As I've told more and more people about my blog, I find I feel less comfortable expressing myself. Not only do I feel like there are certain topics I can't cover, but I feel I must be careful when I write about "appropriate" topics. That makes the blog not so much fun. I have pretty strong feelings about a lot of things, and I worry about writing about them because someone might be turned off by it and that might mean I miss out on an opportunity because someone thinks I'm too outspoken. When you Google my name, this blog is the first thing that comes up. My feelings about the public nature of my blog are pretty complicated. On the one hand, I want to say, "Well, this is who I am. Take it or leave it." On the other hand, I'm aware of having to present a public persona that differs from the real person. I want the two to be the same as possible, but that may not be realistic.

I also feel myself to be in a state of transition. In just over a month, I'll defend my Ph.D. I've been thinking about what that means for my career. I care a lot about what I do. I've set myself up as someone who doesn't simply answer technical questions about Blackboard, but who pushes people to rethink their teaching. I've helped people explore podcasting, screencasting, blogging, wikis, and tablet pcs. In doing so, they often change something about the way they teach. I really do feel that technology belongs in a liberal arts college and that using technology can transform teaching and learning when it's used thoughtfully and appropriately. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me. Fighting that fight day in and day out gets tiresome. It gets even more tiresome when you feel like you're the lone fighter. I feel I'm embedded in a system that doesn't want to change and I'm not in a position to make any kind of change happen. I want to be in that position and so I've been looking for those opportunities. Staying in my current position is but one among many options I see for the future. Many of the other options, however, involve possible changes for me and my family. It might mean a long commute or even living apart. It might at some point mean even more change. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

If I continue blogging here, I'd like to blog more fearlessly, but already I fear I've said too much. My rule has been that I won't say anything here that I wouldn't say in public. Recently, however, there's been a lot that I have kept to myself even though I felt like this would be a good forum to say what I'm thinking out loud. But too many people from work read this. Too many potential employers read this. What I've gotten from blogging has been both about having a platform to express and organize my thoughts, and also about connecting with people who have great insight and push me to think differently. I would hate to let that go, but if I can't express myself openly, then maybe it isn't worth continuing.

In an odd kind of way, I think I began thinking about this when all the brew-ha-ha over Amanda and Melissa and the Edwards' campaign began swirling around the blogosphere. I think David had one of the best posts I'd seen on the topic. At the end he said this:

However, right now I don't so much feel reassured about this "project" of voicing our ideas and beliefs. Right now, I'm sad and scared about where we're headed, and most of all just angry.

I think I agree with him, unfortunately. And in some ways, I feel I'm in a microcosm of the greater public discourse. My voice just isn't loud enough or strong enough. Like David, that makes me sad, scared, and angry.

So, I don't know what I'll do. I'm thinking about it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On documenting a life in photos

Freeing the bird
Originally uploaded by lorda.
I didn't do a retrospective on my project 365 like some others did, but I was just explaining to some people yesterday how different it is for me to be taking pictures rather than capturing my life in text. I've always been observant, but then I usually try to translate what I see into words. It's amazing how much control you have over a vision when you can frame it however you want with the right words. I'm still learning how to achieve the same thing using a camera. I have a new respect for those who are good at using an image to convey meaning. Many times, there's only a split second to capture the look on someone's face or a particular cast of light.

When I was in Tempe, my team was working on our presentation and I didn't have anything to do, so I began taking pictures of everyone working. Some of those shots are some of my favorite photos. Sometimes, too, I'll get to the end of a day and I haven't taken a photo and I'll think, "What was my day like and what image would represent that?" That's how I've ended up with a keyboard shot, an iPod, and a to-do list. It's interesting to think about the day in those terms. Rather than writing a journal entry or riffing off an article or a blog post, I have to capture a day using color, light, and focus. And I sometimes start to see things differently. I can see the places or people I see every day differently or I'll look an new places more closely.

We're only 44 days in. There's still so much more to go, so many more things to capture. I will say that I'm really glad I'm doing this. It's giving me a new perspective on the world.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A DRM-free World

Several stories in the news are discussing the possibility of buying music DRM free. Steve Jobs, I guess, is urging music companies to drop DRM and now EMI is in talks with several music services about the possibility of selling its entire catalog to them without DRM. I've always hated DRM. It punishes the wrong people. Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of "regular" people out there downloading and sharing copyrighted music, tv shows and movies, but in general, the big violators are the pirates selling cds on the streets. And you know, we all go over the speed limit sometimes. The worst thing about DRM though is that it prevents most of us from doing what we want with our music, and you know what, that might include making a cd for a friend (which usually means eventual sales for the record company, just FYI), or having music on multiple machines (like home and work) without any hassles.

I just had a nasty run-in with DRM last night. I finally got around to buying the new BNL album and so I was updating my iPod when I got a lovely message saying that 51 of my songs were not authorized to play on my computer. Now, that was a weird message because I've had the same computer for almost 6 years now. I authorized my work computer, so that's 2. It took me a while to figure out what the problem was. It turns out that those 51 songs were purchased using my .Mac account, which I no longer have. I now use my Google email. At first, I think iTunes didn't really notice this switch, but now recognizes that I'm using a different username. I am not happy about this and have sent a note into the iTunes Customer Service to see if they can fix it. Honestly, I used to strip the DRM from my purchased music, but at some point the third-party software I was using to do so couldn't keep up with the upgrades to iTunes. 51 songs is a lot of music to be missing, especially since it includes some of my favorites (like Death Cab for Cutie). And I was just singing Apple's praises last week. Let's see if they live up to my expectations.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007


One of the more interesting conversations I had last week was about filtering. What we were discussing was the difference between what we do and say at work and what we do and say "off the clock." We were describing how we filter our thoughts and words at work and that sometimes that varies depending on who we're talking to. And that it is also sometimes hard to do. And sometimes we let the filter slip accidentally. We all had a couple of stories when we've said things that might be deemed inappropriate or career damaging.

I struggle with this all the time (witness the blog). I'm a pretty open person and there's not a huge divide between my professional and personal life. I'm wondering, though, if I should up the filter. Should I keep things a little more close to the chest or is it okay to express my opinions openly? On the one hand, I'm a principled person, and I know there are certain values that I hold dear, and if I see those values being violated, then I'm going to speak up. On the other hand, I work in an environment where not everyone shares my values and I might need to learn to let some of the smaller stuff go. One of the reasons I like the higher ed environment, though, is that there's room for passionate people. I just worry sometimes that I get carried away. Perhaps I just need to step back sometimes and see where I can let the passion fly and where I need to reign it in.

Another thing that makes it difficult to maintain the filter is that sometimes there are personalities that make me want to drop it. There are people who provoke me in one way or another. Others had stories along these same lines--a belligerent professor, an offbeat coworker. It's not that these personalities don't exist outside academe, but they tend to thrive there. There's a reason why there's a fair amount of fiction dedicated to the higher ed environment.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Exhausted but Energized

In some ways I'm glad the wireless was too wonky for me to bother with posting every night. Instead of staring at my computer screen, I was out with lots of great people, sharing stories, laughing, and generally having a great time! A shout out to Matt, April, Kirt, Kyle, the entire orange team and many more. I met some really great people that I hope will become lifelong friends. Thankfully, some of them aren't so far away. I wish others were closer. But there's always the Internet!

I think the metaphor for how I feel right now can probably be summed up in a drink I had the unfortunate opportunity to have last night (curse you Kirt!): vodka and red bull. I feel that interesting combination of being extremely tired and incredibly energized. I really feel a renewed interest in moving my career forward and developing myself. I feel more positive than I've felt in a long time and I hope to keep that attitude for a while to come.

I'm going to blog some of the specifics on the other blog as soon as I get home and can collate my notes. Anyone in Higher Ed Administration (cough, cough) or IT might be interested and might be interested in attending the institute itself. It's completely worth it. I haven't had this kind of experience since probably college orientation or summer camp. Seriously, it's that fun.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Slowest internet ever

I'm in a very lovely place, but it has the slowest internet ever. I'm participating in an institute for the next four days, a kind of intensive training course. I'm a little apprehensive about the whole process. I'm not sure I'll fit in. I'm not sure what I'll get out of it. I am looking forward to much of it though. I always like learning new things and this seems like it's going to be a very interactive experience.

However, I am missing my family. Since it's the Super Bowl and the Colts are in it, we had planned to eat hot dogs and nachos and watch the game together. As it is, I'll be in the introductory session of this institute (starting very soon) and I'll probably be thinking about them the whole time. I don't usually miss my family when I'm on trips. Usually, I'm ready for a break in routine, and it's a much-needed respite from the day-to-day life stresses. But not this time. This time, I could have easily stayed home and done the usual things. At the same time, I've made the decision that it's important for me to be here and that this whole experience could contribute to my future plans. I think maybe this tension is adding to my apprehension about this whole experience. I'm not used to feeling the tug of family quite so much.

On a completely different note, there's a very nice hiking path right out my window. Unfortunately, I didn't bring any shoes remotely appropriate for trekking out there. I'm tempted to go buy some tennis shoes sometime tomorrow just so I can get out and see what's up there. It looks perfectly lovely.

Friday, February 02, 2007

So much for family values

I just watched a report on Good Morning America about paid maternity leave for mothers. The US is one of 5 countries that doesn't have paid maternity leave. It's interesting that people were shocked about this. I've been talking about it for 11 years--since I had my first kid. I'm one of those people who probably wouldn't take more than about 3 months, but I still think it should be an option. The worst part of the story was when someone from the labor department--a woman, in fact--said that people should just save their money and plan for these things. Well, when you're talking about a baby, maybe you can, but if your spouse gets cancer? Can't really plan for that. It's the standard right-wing response, though. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It's not our problem.

USA Today Coverage.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


These will be longish bullets. Nothing on my mind fits neatly into a single blog post.
  • Diet and exercise. I gained at least 15 pounds over the last year. My clothes are tight. This is not good. Since the new year, I've been trying to eat better, but am struggling. I've been traveling a fair amount and eating out, which means fairly calorie-laden food. I did purchase Your Fitness!, a PlayStation "game"/virtual personal trainer. However, I'm having a hard time squeezing in the workouts. I can always find time on the weekends, but during the week, it's more difficult. I'm going to keep trying, though. I think I'm at a point, though, where I may have to start making a meal for me and a meal for my family. Sigh.
  • The Dissertation. I haven't set an official defense date, but I will soon. I'm revising. I redid the introduction (needs another pass, I think), worked some more on chapter 1 (which I overhauled in the summer), and I'm working on chapter 2 now (about 2/3 done). I'm hoping to finish chapter 2 this weekend and start (and maybe finish) chapter 4. I'm waiting on Chapter 3, but I may start on that before I get feedback. The tentative plan (in my mind) is to get a complete draft off in a couple of weeks, and schedule a defense for early April.
  • Life, the universe, and everything. Even though I'm much less scheduled this semester and revisions are less time-consuming that writing, I'm still feeling a bit like I'm not on top of my game. I just feel like lots of loose ends are not being tied up. This is especially true at work, where I feel like there are just too many things going on. I feel pretty lost at sea. But only if I stop and think about it. Mostly, I'm just plugging away, working my way through various tasks. If I start to think about everything I'm trying to accomplish, I start to freak out a little. As I said before, once March gets here, I hope that feeling will diminish.
  • The 30,000 foot view. I've been trying to do some long-term life planning. Where do I want to be in 5 years? What will be going on with the kids at that point? 10 years? Mr. Geeky and I differ in our thoughts about the long view. I am a Generation X-er. I don't expect to be in the same job, the same place even, for my entire life. Mr. Geeky has kind of a 1950s perspective on that. You get a job and a home and you settle in. Plus, he has tenure. Though it's not impossible that he will consider moving to another college. It's unlikely. I'm struggling a bit with the idea that we are here to stay. On the one hand, I do like having friends and feeling at home in a neighborhood or feeling comfortable in a job. On the other hand, I think about things I'd like to do or would like to try doing. I feel like I have been along for the ride for a long time and now I need to start charting a course. Unfortunately, I have no idea which way to go. At least for now, I think I have a pretty good map. And that's enough.
  • The 5 foot view. My house is full of clutter and laundry and crap. I swear, the day after I send my dissertation off, I'm taking a day off to clean. Sounds crazy, I know, but it's gotten so bad even I can't take it.
  • Politics. Lately, not on my radar. I feel kind of guilty about this, but hey, I've been busy. 2008 will be here soon enough.