Tuesday, April 29, 2008

RBOC: Road edition

  • Who's idea was it to take the most heavily trafficked and congested stretch of highway and put points along the way where the whole mob has to come to a halt to take tickets and pay tolls? Seriously, are people just trying to be cruel?
  • Speaking of tolls, I have no idea where that money's going. Certainly, it's not going to the roads, because that is the crappiest stretch of highway I've ever driven on.
  • If windshield wipers are going for 8 hours straight, will they wear out?
  • If you can't see the lanes, is it okay just to make up your own?
  • According to NPR even, the only things worth talking about were Jeremiah Wright, some vet who had a funeral in a baseball stadium, and the fact that Mars bought Wrigley's.
  • Shouldn't there be a separate road for trucks? I mean, really, the whole going 45 and then going 70 thing just doesn't do much for the traffic flow, not to mention the tailgating and the drifting out of lanes.
  • I think the trip was still faster than if I went by plane.
  • Train travel is the only civilized mode left, except that it's still too slow and doesn't go to enough destinations to make it truly viable. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I voted for the woman

I did it. I voted for Hillary. I'd like to say I have really good reasons from a policy standpoint, but I don't. On the issues I care about, there's not a huge difference between Obama and Clinton. And honestly, if the election had been held a month ago, I probably would have voted differently. But, for the last few days, I've been thinking about the way Hillary's been scrutinized and how women tend to get the raw deal when it comes to getting positions of power. No, she's not perfect, but we know the ways in which she's not perfect. I think she has a good chance of getting important legislation passed because she does have connections in Congress that I don't think Obama has built yet. And I think it's about time a woman was president.

In my precinct, where I once again served as judge, the vote was very close, with Obama beating Clinton by only 10 votes. Talk on the elevators in the courthouse was all about how the radio was projecting Hillary to win and they just couldn't believe that because Obama won their precincts. There's a large swath of PA that's very different from Philadelphia and its suburbs and the there's Pittsburgh, a former steel town. I'm thinking that Obama didn't necessarily appeal to those areas. There were lots of people who switched parties for this election and just based on my observations at my precinct, I think quite a few did so to try to influence who McCain will run against, not out of some real change in ideology.

Whatever happens, I think we're in for an interesting election come November.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Meta-blogging about talking about blogging

I had the great pleasure today to talk to students in Anne Dalke's "Emerging Genres" class about what it is I'm doing here at Geeky Mom. I was preceded by my esteemed colleagues, Kate of Syllabub and Tim of Easily Distracted. It's a tough act to follow since their writing is so much more polished than mine. I tend to literally slap things up here. Even though I do read things over before I hit "post", I don't worry too much about how things are phrased or what vocabulary I've used. Sometimes I see things that I kind of cringe over and I hit post anyway.

Anyway, I thought Anne's students asked some really interesting questions about who I think my audience is, what I write about and why. It's interesting because a lot of what's going on with the blog has a lot to do with my identity, both in the virtual and real world. We talked about, for instance, the way I may write about things that have to do with my job and whether those things get aired face-to-face in meetings or with my supervisors. They do, often, fyi. I said that sometimes I'm working out what I think so that when I get to the moment when I can present my ideas in person, I have put some thought into it. But sometimes, maybe, there isn't another forum for what I think except here. I don't know. The conversation gave me something to think about. I might, indeed, be hiding behind the blog sometimes.

People asked me if I've ever regretted anything I've written and I don't think I have, though I'm sure if I dug through here long enough, I'd find something that I wasn't too thrilled with. Someone also asked me about the time when I said I was going to step away from the blog for a while. I had forgotten about that. Those of us that have been blogging for awhile have doubts every once in a while. But it made me think about the balance between my online life and my "real" life that I have to maintain. I know many of you (I think) in real life, but I don't communicate with all my friends and family through the blog, so I need to make sure I'm maintaining those relationships as well. I actually consider some of what I do here--maybe most--work, so really that's about balancing work and family as much as anything.

One of the things that I think blogging gets us to think about, and here some theoretical apparatus might help, is the relationship between self and authorship, public and private as well as what a blog is as a genre or form of writing. At any rate, I'm grateful to Anne's students for the conversation and I hope it continues here and elsewhere.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Anti-Technology in the Classroom--Again!

Here's this argument again. Read the comments. They're fascinating. I don't have any problem with dictating that students close their laptops on occasion, but banning altogether is ridiculous. We need to keep working to find a way to engage the technology and our students. And you gotta just love the nostalgia of this quote:
students used to know how to pay attention, even when the lecture was boring, and still managed to learn something. Adding cell phones, ipods and laptops for todays students who were born for the “short attention span theater", is throwing water on a grease fire. Students seem to no longer have the skill to be able to focus on one thing at a time. Blaming the lecturer is the lazy persons copout.
I would say so is blaming the students.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Learning to Write in the Digital Age

I've just returned from NITLE's Learning to Write in the Digital Age conference, a conference I helped put together along with a lot of other wonderful people. We did so virtually, via NITLE's video conferencing software and we also relied on the generosity of attendees to talk about their work. Though some were worried about whether everything was going to come together, it did, and it all turn out fabulously.

Barbara Ganley was our esteemed keynote speaker (link to presentation), who, as always, set the tone for the conference by challenging people's ideas about teaching and writing. In fact, someone asked afterwards if the multimedia work her students were doing could be writing. She essentially said, it just is. I was thinking about this throughout the conference. If multimedia composition isn't writing, then some other department is going to crop up to teach this kind of work. Because this kind of work is being done within businesses, ad agencies, on the web, for museums and even educational institutions. If the writing department doesn't lay claim to it and bring to bear all it knows about rhetoric and the composing process, then the writing department may cease to exist.

Many people began questions and comments with the caveat that they were "skeptics," which I found quite telling, not about the people asking the questions, but about the defensiveness many faculty who are exploring the use of Web 2.0 technologies instinctively take on out of fear of looking "unprofessional" or "not serious enough." Several faculty said they were the only ones in their departments doing anything like using a blog in their classes. They had no one to turn to to share successes and failure or to bounce ideas off of. I encouraged some of them to seek out the "me's" in their schools. Sadly, some said that wouldn't work because their me's were just not like me, either because they didn't have an academic background or because they were too much a part of the IT department (often both).

Speaking of me's, there were quite a few people there who served in a similar capacity to my role. They were both teachers and technologists, a trend I think we will and should see continue. As some faculty told me, they've spent years working on one area of expertise (writing or literature or a combination) and now they had to add the technology expertise and it was proving difficult and time-consuming. I suggested several times that institutions needed to step up to the plate and offer more support for faculty working with technology in their courses. They need more support financially and with a course-release or summer stipend to work on trying out new things. As someone said, they need to feel free to play with some of these tools so they can decide which ones work best. If we see more people like me in the instructional technology department or, gasp, housed within a writing department, that might give faculty more support for this work. It would give them access to a technology expert and also a kindred spirit to talk through things as they're being developed and implemented.

All in all, a wonderful conference. I have a little more to say, which I'll save for later. For now, I will point you to the huge number of resources we (mostly Jen and Rebecca) tagged for the conference.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RBOC: Defcon 5

  • Had to file extension for taxes. First time in probably 10 years. We lost our W2's, had to get them reprinted.
  • Yesterday was the day of losing documents. Lost two docs--one completely and one I was able to recover. Haven't done that for 10 years either. I also worked 11 hours yesterday.
  • I have no idea what I've been doing since my last post. I only know I've been busy. There was soccer and laundry. Grocery shopping. Don't know.
  • Had a visit from this blogger. Totally fun, an excellent break from the craziness that is my life.
  • I can tell I'm stressed because I'm snapping at everyone, mostly people related to me. Not good.
  • Had an MRI. Mr. Geeky made it his personal mission to create an animated gif out of it. See below.
  • Are we done yet? Is it over? Can I look?

Update: There are more images and code to play with the images at http://bubo.brynmawr.edu/~dblank/brain/

I always thought I'd be dead before I donated my body to science. :)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

More on "Get out of my way"

The quote came in response to a question from the audience about how to create more faculty like Michael Wesch. Michael said, "Get out of my way."

This is just my perspective, based on my 5 years' experience in this specific role and my over 10 years' experience in higher ed. Many IT people and by IT here I mean the truly technical folks, the ones who do user support, server support, programming, etc., have no idea how the academic side of the house works. The policies and procedures that they often propose or implement are often driven by a need to reduce workloads or make systems more efficient or reduce costs. Often these decisions create unintended consequences that affect faculty in ways that prevent freedom and innovation.

For example, I've seen places try to restrict use of "external" software, some not even allowing use of curricular software outside of the course management system. At one place I worked, I could only have my own web page if I used FrontPage. There was no way for me to create pages at home (I had no office and thus, no access to "college-owned" software such as FrontPage) and then upload them to the college server. I ended up going off-site. We almost implemented a similar system out of the good intention of making managing web sites easier for both us and the web editors until I recalled that faculty don't use the software tied to this system and thus, we would have inadvertently cut them off from creating and editing course web pages.

Another thing I've seen and heard a number of times is FERPA being raised as a reason for faculty not to use social software of any kind. And while it's important to respect certain student information--grades, personal contact information--it's not a blanket reason to not let someone use a particular teaching method. It's often a fear tactic. And this is bureaucratic rather than technical, but because they often get spoken in the same sentence, it becomes the IT people's problem. And it often comes from the IT people, not the academic side of the house.

Putting these kinds of restrictions on faculty only keeps those with trepidation about technology from trying anything new. For the Michael Wesch's of the world, it means they turn to other resources--netvibes, Google, Wordpress, etc.

For me, this response and discussion raises the question of what role the Instructional Technologist should play. Is our role to cultivate innovation for the cutting edge faculty? Is it to get those middle of the road faculty to go to the next level? Is it to help the folks stuck in the age of the typewriter find their way in this crazy world?

I would lose my mind if I had to spend all day helping faculty use Blackboard. And though I'm always happy to move some middle of the road folks a little ways up the road, it's the innovative faculty who really make my day. These are the ones who often find things on their own, but often turn to me for ideas about how to use things or for other possible tools. Conversations with them are often about education and learning, not about how to use things. I can often get the motr folks to this point but it's work, work I'm willing to do, but work nonetheless. The typewriter people wouldn't be an issue if they didn't take up soooo much of my time. If I really felt that I could just ignore them, I would, but they're quite in my face. They have a tendency to panic more so than either of the other groups. So it takes a lot of energy to manage the panic as well.

I asked Michael after his talk what we should do to create more faculty like him. He had some good ideas such as bringing in speakers, providing a page with resources, etc. Although I think there's a fair amount I can do to serve as a catalyst for change, I think there are things that need to happen that are institutional (changes in tenure and promotion, work loads, etc.) and changes in attitude (gatekeepers of knowledge, blogging is bad, etc.) that need to happen that I have very little control over.

My Co-Workers Live All Over the World

The thing I love most about social software is the way it's connected me to so many different people, from many many places. Certainly when I started reading blogs and then writing my own, I tapped into a resource that allowed me to engage in critical inquiry with people I wouldn't normally be able to because of distance or difference in discipline or even profession. I've learned from blogs that ideas come from unexpected quarters and that opening up the conversation makes it richer and more valuable.

While I still thing blogs and blogging are at the core of my social software world, my experience with Twitter has added another dimension to that world. When I first signed up over a year ago, I didn't get it. Then I went to Faculty Academy at UMW and got more than 2 friends and it suddenly made sense. Alan Levine has a great Twitter curve that shows almost everyone goes through the same process and that Twitter can be quite addicting.

Here's just a few things I use Twitter for:
  • Conference backchannel. This has been both good and evil. It's good when the talk is good and people often send more links and make interesting comments. It's bad when the crowd turns against the speaker and uses the backchannel to let off a little steam. Related use: conference notes.
  • Quick questions. I've thrown out questions to the twitterverse many times. I've asked everything from specific how-tos to more philosophical questions. The responses I get come in much faster than they would via email or even through a blog.
  • Arranging meetings. This is great at conferences when you don't have someone's cell or if you don't even know who you want to meet with. I've arranged two meetups for dinner this way.
  • Keeping up with distant colleagues. This is actually my favorite use. I get to find out more about people I meet at conferences. I know now that some people go jogging every day, get up really early, or spend Saturdays making breakfast for their kids. These intimate details bind us together the same way they do when you talk to people in person. And then when I see them again, I feel like we haven't been apart as long. We connect more quickly and then keep building up a relationship from there.
Although I have great colleagues locally, work can still be isolating at times. Twitter gives me a world full of co-workers, motivating and inspiring me constantly throughout the day.

Monday, April 07, 2008

NITLE Summit first reflections

I think there will be more posts to follow, but I wanted to get a few preliminary thoughts out there in the 6 minutes I have before I forget them.

Going to a NITLE event for me is increasingly like going home. I get to see so many friends (links coming soon). What's interesting to me is that while we do indeed talk about our partners and kids and what we did over vacation, a lot of our conversations are about education in the 21st century and how can we bring a 19th century mindset in line with the 21st. We are all very passionate about this and we don't always agree, but we can obviously talk about it for days.

There were many highlights, but two sessions I really enjoyed were 1) the keynote with Michael Wesch and 2) a panel-led discussion about the millennial student.

I have a lot to say about both of these, but I'm going to throw out a key quote/point from each and let you all have at it in the comments.

From Michael Wesch, when asked how IT staff can help faculty like him: "Get out of my way."

From a comment from Marty Ringle of Reed College: "Only the least creative and engaged students will become professors."

There's a lot more context to both of those and they've inspired some pretty serious thinking on my part, so you'll hear more later.