Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Free Agent

I've been thinking about how to write this post for a while now. As of Friday, I will no longer be employed, by my choice. I won't go into reasons here because they are complicated and personal and it's not fair to present just one side of things. Over the next couple of days, I'll be trying to articulate my reasons to various people and that will be difficult enough. I don't know yet what the future will bring, but I'm looking forward to new possibilities and new opportunities. There are many possibilities on the horizon, but I'm going to take my time to decide which ones are right for me and the kind of life I want to have right now. One thing I've been thinking about a lot lately (and have written about here before at greater length) is how we let our work overwhelm everything else in our lives, often to the detriment of our health and our relationships. We leave ourselves with no time or energy to contribute to our communities or to the world. I think my one goal is to make sure my life is in balance, that I have time and energy for the things in my life that are important. I'm looking forward to the process of finding that balance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Whose fault is it?

Warning: rambling thought process below!

I have to say that I've been feeling a mounting frustration about school. My kids' schools, that is. But I'm completely and totally conflicted about it, too. Will Richardson writes today about a conversation with a principal about who's responsibility it is to teach kids digital literacy. I was also struck earlier this week by Laura at 11D's Weekend Journal post, where she says, "the traditional paths to career success are made for men and the childless" in part a response to her need to be available to her kids, both in the general parent way, but also to advocate for her son with the schools and because there aren't adequate after school programs for her youngest son. There are a couple of comments in the thread to Will's post that mention "bad parenting" or "less than stellar parenting." I have to admit, that gets my goat.

The thing is, I often feel stretched way too thin. My son comes home to an empty house. We usually talk a couple of times by phone and both Mr. Geeky and I try to get him to work on homework and do household chores from a distance. This is about as effective as trying to freeze water with a blow torch. There are a couple of after school programs that I just now found out about that he could attend, but no matter what, it's not the same as having a parent around, someone you trust enough to ask stupid questions and who brings you apple pie when the going gets tough. So, I do take some blame when my kids struggle.

On the other hand, I think it's far too easy for teachers to assume that a parent is home to guide a kid through homework, to help them get organized, etc. And so, they immediately assume that something's not good on the home front when things start to slide.* I get frustrated at times because I feel like two-income families are in a real bind when it comes to getting kids through school successfully. If your kids needs, or you choose to provide personal attention, that often means after dinner, taking away from your own time to decompress for work or get other things done. I don't mean to sound selfish here, but I always find it interesting when people talk about "family" time and they're usually referring to some idyllic time long ago when parents didn't come home and frantically throw together something for dinner after a long commute home.

I think my conflict comes from feeling that there are certainly things I could do to help make school a more successful experience for my kids, but that I'm trapped in a system that doesn't fully appreciate or maybe doesn't even recognize my conflict. I've never heard anyone at a parent-teacher meeting or back-to-school session talk about ways the school helps two-income families struggling with a compressed time-frame to work with their kids. I've never heard after school programs or clubs highlighted. I also find it frustrating at the lack of societal support for both education and raising kids. Schools lack money to have more innovative programs or to extend days (things that might help dual-income families). And local, state, and federal governments have few programs that provide quality after school services.

I'll keep trying to resolve my conflict, but I have to say, it really does keep me up at night.

*I have to say that my kid's teachers have made a valiant effort to make me feel like it's not my fault that things aren't going well for my kid, and that at this point in his life, homework is his responsibility.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I'm totally making these. I can't get a yard sign, but I can put some pumpkins in my yard. I'll post pictures.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Academic Conferences

I attended and presented at my first purely academic conference since 2003. I popped my head into the MLA in 2006, but I'm not really counting that. Having attended technology conferences and workshops for the past 5 years, going to this conference was a bit of a shock. First, there was the fact that I didn't know many people. I'm sure I wasn't the only one, but there were certainly groups of people who run into each other regularly. I'm sure this would change if I kept attending these kinds of conferences, so no big deal.

I'm used to going to conferences and being pretty wowed by the presentations, especially the keynotes. There have been exceptions (ELI 2008, cough, cough), but for the most part, presentations tend to be interesting and inspiring. I wasn't all that thrilled with the keynotes at this confernece. Given the names of the presenters, I should have been, but alas, I just wasn't. This may partly be due to my not being embedded in this discipline the way I am in the technology field, but I'm of the mind that a presentation should appeal broadly not narrowly. Even within a discipline, not everyone knows the ins and outs of every subfield or topic. The talk I liked the most was one that my disciplinary colleagues liked the least, in part because the speaker didn't seem to understand the discipline/audience. I liked the broadness of the talk, the fact that it wasn't entirely situated within the field. The panel presentations, given by mostly younger people in the field, were much better. More on this later.

Another thing that I'd forgotten about academic conferences was the ever-present name-tag glance. This happens at tech conferences, too, but my feeling has been that this is in the honest attempt to acquire a name, not to see if you're at the "right" kind of institution. The name-tag glance was part of a generally feeling of competition I felt at the conference. There were lots of conversations about job openings and about people being "on the market" (a phrase that conjures prostitution for me for some reason). And there always seemed to be a kind of grandstanding going on at all times. People were constantly trying to give their "elevator speech" about their latest research. The grandstanding was especially apparent during Q & A at many sessions. The questions weren't about the presentation per se, but were an attempt to showcase the questioners knowledge of the topic. I would contrast this to the tech conferences I attend where people are often on the lookout for collaborators and conversations center around mutual interests. Questions asked during presentations seek clarity so that the questioner can put the information presented into practice.

Another observation I made had to do with who was giving the keynotes. These tended to be the "older" people in the field, those who've been around for quite a while and who have made significant contributions. Of course, it is usual for these people to be the keynoters, but it would have been nice to see some of the "newer" folks doing the big talks rather than being relegated to the smaller panel presentations. There seemed to be a generational divide. It seems a shame to have to wait a generation to hear from some of the new contributors to the field.

Despite these criticisms, I still got something out of the conference. I saw some good talks and I had some very good conversations. I suspect that part of my criticism stems from my being out of the loop for a while. I've attained a comfort level with tech conferences that I just haven't gotten to yet with academic ones.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Higher Ed Tech behind

There's been a fair amount of digital ink spilled already about this report from CDW about faculty, IT staff, and student perceptions of technology use in teaching. My response was, "Duh." The biggest barrier to use: lack of knowledge on the part of faculty. The problem is, as I've said over and over, is that faculty won't take responsibility for learning the technology. There is no scalable way for most institutions to provide enough support for a technology expert to do most things for the faculty. We can't be there every time you need to turn on the projector in the classroom or upload a document to Blackboard.

We are currently running two day-long workshops, thanks to NITLE, on using technology. Less than 10 of our faculty are in attendance at either session. That's less than 1% of our total faculty. I see the same kind of attendance at shorter workshops that I offer throughout the year. We've done research that shows that faculty don't want to learn this way; they want one-on-one assistance as they're working with technology.

Honestly, most of the technology used today is not rocket science. Back when I first started word processing, you had to remember the markup for line breaks and bold and paragraph indents. Now word processing works just like your old typewriter did. You no longer need to type things at the C: prompt to run programs or find files. You can search via a little box that's replicated not just on desktops but in browsers and other programs. Yes, if you want to experiment with GIS or another complex technology, you're approaching a difficulty level where assistance from an expert is warranted. But if you're interested in 95% of the technology stuff that's being used, all you really need to do is spend some time trying some things. I think most Ph.D.'s can figure out chat, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc. on their own. Where they may need help is figuring out the best way to take advantage of these tools or figuring out how best to implement them in their classes. Maybe that part needs to come first in order to get faculty to take responsibility. I'm not sure, but I do know that we need to get past this knowledge barrier to get to the good stuff.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Because it seemed fun for Monday

I'm Marilyn.

Your result for Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz...

You Are a Marilyn!


You are a Marilyn -- "I am affectionate and skeptical."

Marilyns are responsible, trustworthy, and value loyalty to family, friends, groups, and causes. Their personalities range broadly from reserved and timid to outspoken and confrontative.

How to Get Along with Me

  • * Be direct and clear

  • * Listen to me carefully

  • * Don't judge me for my anxiety

  • * Work things through with me

  • * Reassure me that everything is OK between us

  • * Laugh and make jokes with me

  • * Gently push me toward new experiences

  • * Try not to overreact to my overreacting.

What I Like About Being a Marilyn

  • * being committed and faithful to family and friends

  • * being responsible and hardworking

  • * being compassionate toward others

  • * having intellect and wit

  • * being a nonconformist

  • * confronting danger bravely

  • * being direct and assertive

What's Hard About Being a Marilyn

  • * the constant push and pull involved in trying to make up my mind

  • * procrastinating because of fear of failure; having little confidence in myself

  • * fearing being abandoned or taken advantage of

  • * exhausting myself by worrying and scanning for danger

  • * wishing I had a rule book at work so I could do everything right

  • * being too critical of myself when I haven't lived up to my expectations

Marilyns as Children Often

  • * are friendly, likable, and dependable, and/or sarcastic, bossy, and stubborn

  • * are anxious and hypervigilant; anticipate danger

  • * form a team of "us against them" with a best friend or parent

  • * look to groups or authorities to protect them and/or question authority and rebel

  • * are neglected or abused, come from unpredictable or alcoholic families, and/or take on the fearfulness of an overly anxious parent

Marilyns as Parents

  • * are often loving, nurturing, and have a strong sense of duty

  • * are sometimes reluctant to give their children independence

  • * worry more than most that their children will get hurt

  • * sometimes have trouble saying no and setting boundaries

Take Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz at HelloQuizzy

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Watching the train wreck

The radio silence is due in part to illness and in part to watching the train wreck of our failing economy. There are great conversations going on at 11D and and Half-Changed World where people are trying to come to grips with what this whole mess means for them. The short answer, none of us really knows. We thought Y2K was going to be apocalyptic and it wasn't. I'm hoping the same for this, but this is a much bigger scale and I think my hopes are misguided at best.

Tim Burke is all doom and gloom, but I think he's right to consider the worst. And most people are reminding all of us that we have no idea what it's like to be really and truly poor. I watched a biography of Jimmy Carter last night. That's probably the worst economic downturn I can remember. My parents paid 14% interest on their house. There were lines at the gas station. People lost their jobs. And then there was the hostage crisis.