Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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
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
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
- NY Times Article on Decline in Tenure-Track jobs--via 11D, good discussion there.
- A semi-scientific listing of the most influential blogs.
- A powerpoint on technology trends among students. My thought, yes, technology makes things convenient, but we need to push beyond the convenience factor. More on the study here.
- Via SmartMobs, news about a Smart Closet that helps you decide what to wear. That is so cool.
Monday, November 19, 2007
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
For further reading:
Update: Didn't pass the house--just the committee. But the vote was unanimous. Sigh.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
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
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
More about this bill can be found here, here, and here.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
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
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
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.
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:
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.”
- 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.