Friday, January 30, 2009

TGIF

I don't think I've been so glad to see a Friday come around in a long time. This has been a rough week in Geeky land. Everyone was sick. I, too, got a cold and sore throat. I was so grateful not to have stomach issues like Mr. Geeky and Geeky Boy that it seemed no problem at all that I couldn't swallow very well. But because I was relatively well in comparison, I ended up doing everything and that made me cranky beyond belief. I knew I was just cranky, but there was nothing I could do about it. I'm not good at being Florence Nightingale anyway, but add lack of sleep and a killer cold to that and you have a recipe for disaster. On top of that, I had a ton of work this week. In addition to prepping for class, I had a project deadline. I have another project that really I'd hoped to get done this week, but not going to happen. And a proposal due tomorrow. Plus, there's just the regular stuff I'm trying to keep up with: bills, writing, etc. Despite not feeling well, I put in probably 10 hours every day this week. Sadly, for most of this stuff the payoff comes much later.

I'm looking at a fair amount of work today, but I think I've already postponed watching a movie for class until tomorrow. I just don't think I can squeeze it in today since I have to go to the library to watch it. Part of me wishes I could just take the whole day off, but if I do, I'll pay for it later. And I find that frustrating. Amazing that I quit my job and have become twice as busy. On the plus side, and what I keep reminding myself of, is that 90% of what I'm doing is stuff I want to do, that I've chosen to do. Part of why my days were so long was because I didn't want to stop working, so that's a good thing, but still exhausting. I think the only thing that kept this week from feeling completely successful was the illness. And there's nothing to be done about that. Here's to hoping next week pans out better.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

House of Puke

So, Saturday evening, really early Sunday morning, Geeky Girl woke up puking.  Mr. Geeky got up and took care of her for the most part, though there was a point where the situation required two people.  We chalked it up to some bad chicken and we all felt a little queasy on Sunday, but Geeky Girl was 400% better.  Then last night after dinner, Mr. Geeky was struck, followed by Geeky Boy.  I have so far avoided this heinous illness, but I do have a sore throat and expect full-blown something later today. 

Meanwhile, there's ice and snow and schools are closed, which is a blessing on a day after a night of puke.  I have work to do, but I'm not really going to do it.  I have class at 2:30, so I'm going to prepare for that and I think that's all I'll manage.  Hate, hate being sick.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blackboard going Web 2.0?

Blackboard, 9.0 :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education's Source for News, Views and Jobs

IHE describes the launch of the new version of Blackboard as including Web 2.0 and social learning tools. I've only seen the company video showcasing the new Blackboard.  So, it may not be fair to comment at this point, but I'm going to anyway.  The interface definitely looks better, incorporating drag and drop customization and context menus that eliminate much of the clicking that annoyed so many people.  It seems to have absorbed the blog and wiki tools that were previously provided by a third party.  However, the look of the blogs (and the rest of Blackboard) still appears to be bland compared to "blogs in the wild".  Also, Blackboard is still course-based with content contained within individual courses and unable to be shared outside or even across courses within the institution (I do know that course content can be share if you buy Bb's Content System). 

Although I prefer an open platform that allows students to present their work to the world, this semester working with WordPress Mu as my class platform for the first has made me appreciate why someone would gravitate to Blackboard.  The main issue is getting people into the system.  Although it's tied to our central login system, the steps to get people logged in are clumsy.  Also, managing the work of 40 or more students gets somewhat overwhelming.  I do have a plugin that shows me how many posts people have made and we're doing some work to organize their papers when that time comes, but it's still required some significant work to make all that work.  Partly, of course, this is because WP Mu wasn't built to do this, but that's what happens to most Web 2.0 apps.  They start life as one thing and become something else entirely because of the way people really use it.

I think a few minor improvements to a Course Management system might make it something that those of us on the bleeding edge rethink using it.  Here's what I propose.
  1. Make it possible to share content across courses easily.  Allow, for example, two courses to link together.  They might be courses being taught this semester by different instructors centered on the same theme but in different disciplines.  Imagine the conversations that could take place!  Or they might be courses from previous semesters.
  2. Make it possible for "real" customization of a course.  Let instructors be able to design the front page not just by changing the menu items across the left nav, but change where that navigation is.  Allow widgets to be added that pull in content from outside sites right onto the front page.  Allow the instructor to minimize the institutional branding so that they can feel more ownership over their course. 
  3. Allow students to customize their area too.  They might be able to customize their blogs within a course, but they might also be able to build a portfolio by pulling in work from their courses that they're proud of.
  4. Make it possible to make the course public.  Make it possible for faculty to allow the public in if they want.  You can still make copyrighted materials private and obviously, grades, but allow the outside world to see the course and see the blogs and other student work.
There's probably more that could be done here, and it does seem that Blackboard is moving in the right direction to a large extent, but they are driven in their design in part by the assumptions of institutions who are still very course and discipline-based.  Until they get beyond the idea that learning is closed off from the world and contained within courses and disciplines, course management systems aren't going to change.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pacing

I think the most profound difference between my life now and my life while I was working full time is the pacing. I'm still putting in roughly the same number of hours as I was before, but the pacing of those hours is quite different. I'm able to work early in the morning, break for breakfast, continue working until lunch, break for lunch, sometimes work over lunch, work until the kids get home, sometimes working while they do homework. It sounds like I have my nose to the grindstone but I don't. I work fairly slowly and evenly, never at any kind of frantic pace. In my old life, I often found myself feeling like I had to be in crisis mode all the time, either because there really was a crisis or because everyone around me turned everything into a crisis.

I am going to try my best to keep this pace even though I have a lot going on. Classes begin for me today and I have figured in prep time for that, which I hope to keep at a certain number of hours per week. As an adjunct, I'm not getting paid enough to devote my life to a single class. I'm also working on a multimedia presentation, an essay series, and a textbook formatting project. I could panic and go into crisis mode at any point, but I'm not going to let that energy take over.

This morning, as part of an essay I'm working on, I re-read Hirshman's TAP article and IHE article as well as some of the comments on it. Also, the class I'm teaching is Gender and Technology, so gender issues are generally on my brain. And the thing that struck me, both as I've "opted out" as Hirshman would say, and as I get back to Feminism 101, is that what feminism to me was supposed to do was both to open up opportunities for women to access money and power (what Hirshman sees as the only way to measure success), and also to change society so that it valued not just money and power but also other things that women historically have participated in. The idea that one's success can only be measured by how much money and power one has just irks me. And of course, Hirshman's article was written years before our financial fallout where the striving for money and power led us down the path of destruction. I also found, in writing my own story of how I always seemed to put my career on the back burner, that some of the most important skills and knowledge I've developed were developed when I was opting out. Her argument that smart women who choose to stay at home are atrophying is just plain wrong. I know I'm not the only one who is doing things now that will pay off later: taking an online class, volunteering, etc. Just because some women aren't doesn't mean that we all are. And just because some us want to work at our own pace and enjoy this one life we've got doesn't mean we're all failures.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Historic Day

Sunday, I flipped back and forth between the Eagles game and the concert for Obama. I'll admit to getting choked up watching Pete Seeger sing "This Land is your Land." And I also got a kick out of seeing Garth Brooks sing "Shout." I would actually love to be on the mall today to be a part of what is bound to be a very emotional ceremony for many people. My son is watching the inauguration with his whole school. Geeky Girl is going to ask about it. I'm recording it just in case.

Barbara Ganley tweeted that the inauguration reminds her to recommit to community involvement. Me too. Something I've been thinking about for the last couple of months is in what way I should get involved. The PTA doesn't appeal to me because they're more involved in cookie baking than school reform. I am already somewhat involved with our local democrats, but I want to find something that crosses political lines. As it happens, our state representative is holding a business disctrict revitalization meeting this week, a couple of hours before the school board meeting. I'm planning to go to both.

I think it's going to take a lot of effort not just by the administration but by all of us to get through the wars and the economic fallout. I hope the Obama administration encourages that kind of participation as his campaign did. I think many of us stand ready and hopeful.

Update: Also read Leslie's amazing post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Online vs. "real" life

I've been thinking about this in a number of contexts over the last week. As I've moved away from an institutional job, my online life increasingly *is* my life. I work with people all over the country and meet with them via skype, in second life, or just back and forth via a Google doc. The people I interact with online are mostly people I've met in real life at conferences or other events. They are people I turn to for ideas, advice, and support. In my physical space, I haven't yet found the rich support network I have online. I do have friends and former colleagues that I meet up with periodically (some of whom are also part of my online network), but it's harder to find these people; there are fewer opportunities to "meet" in physical space. I'm working on finding and/or creating these opportunities, but it's a slow process.

The reality and to some extent, the physicality, of online life hit home for us this week. Geeky Boy suspected that one of his online friends, someone he'd been gaming with for over 4 years, was about to commit suicide. He reported this to Mr. Geeky, who began trying to track down the kid. All we had to go on was a name and a state. Ideally, he might have contacted the parents, but he couldn't, so he ended up calling the police. Meanwhile, GB was texting his friend and getting no response, which naturally had him worried. The police took the whole thing seriously and did indeed track down GB's friend, almost simultaneously with the friend finally contacting GB. We're glad that GB didn't brush off the incident as some random kid he knew online and took the situation as seriously as he would for a friend he knew in person. The whole situation is an indication, perhaps, that many kids will form lasting and real friendships online. I have hope that the building of these relationships will make the online world more hospitable as people eliminate the distinction between relationships that are "real" and those that are online.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The opposite of do more with less: just do less

This post this morning made me feel much better about my lack of energy yesterday. One of the things I'm actually focused on is doing less. Of coming back to a place of real balance. I had taken to heart the common corporate (and educational institution) mantra of "Do more with less." I'm sure that mantra is even more prevalent today as companies cut jobs or ask workers to take pay cuts or forgo raises. I personally found that mentality very stressful and I bet a lot of other people do too. And part of my distress yesterday was that I found myself feeling like I needed to do more in order to be successful. But I just didn't have the energy for it and so I thought I was being lazy and then beat myself up. The spirals of doubt we get ourselves into!

The other blog I've been following that brings me out of those spirals is The Happiness Project, now also on Slate. As Gretchen says in her first post for Slate,
I realized with a jolt that I never thought about happiness, or whether I was happy, or what I could do to be happier. . . . Some people think that wanting to be happier is a selfish, self-absorbed goal—but I disagree. Robert Louis Stevenson got it right: "There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy,” he wrote. Research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likeable, more creative, more resilient, more interested in the problems of others, friendlier, and healthier. Happy people make better friends, colleagues, and citizens.
Like the "Do More with Less" mantra, society tends to value people who are "productive" or at least look that way. Those focusing on their own personal happiness are viewed as suspect. But I'm with Gretchen, being happy is a good thing for everyone, not just the person who is striving for it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Being tired makes me blue



During some blog reading this morning, I posted the above message to Twitter. For some reason, I'm especially tired today. There's no good explanation for this. I went to bed early. I really didn't do much exhaustive work this weekend. I have no idea. But apparently, when I'm tired, I'm more prone to dips in self-esteem. Partly, I was feeling this way because of where I am now compared to where I was before. Where I was before, within the confines and structures of an institution, I mostly knew how to succeed. In doing work for my institution, I often found recognition for that work outside of it and I did things like write important blog posts and presented at conferences and even published in online venues. It's not that I'm not doing those things now. I am. In fact, over the last few days, I've been working on not one, but two conference presentations and a day-long workshop. But those presentations have made me think pretty long and hard about what it is I'm doing as opposed to what I was doing. And I think the realization of how much of a transition I'm in hit me this morning. It's not a bad place to be at all. It's just that the what comes next part isn't mapped out completely (and intentionally so). And that makes it a bit harder. I have no idea what is going to bring me success. Will the presentations be good? Will they bring new opportunities? What else should I do to find those opportunities? What opportunities do I really want?

In my conversation yesterday with the fearless women, we had all been talking about various issues related to technology adoption within institutions, circling such topics as assessment and accountability and quantifying learning. Except Barbara G., who piped up to say that she's just not in those places any more and not thinking those thoughts at all. I knew what she meant. But I'm also still ensconced in the educational endeavor in ways the BG isn't. And I'm still trying to decide if I should completely let that go or if that's going to be part of my life just from a different place. I am ever so glad to not have to be fighting the fight of whether to use Blackboard or WordPress or if Twitter belongs in a classroom or not. But I do have strong opinions about technology use for the benefit of education. But I've lost my captive audience. Where do my opinions go now? They could go, in theory, just to this blog, or out into presentations or into print publications or online publications. And maybe they will, but I have some anxiety about not having the institutional credentials behind me anymore. That anxiety reared its ugly head this morning, I guess, as I thought about what I'm *not* doing rather than focusing on what I am doing. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm just beginning. I'm not there yet and it's okay to take it slow. Also, maybe I just need more sleep.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Podcasting again

ETC Podcast: iPhone Apps to Keep You Productive on the Road | Emerging Technologies Consulting

My first solo podcast.  If anyone wants to join me for an interview or has ideas for topics, please let me know.


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Thursday, January 08, 2009

My Problem with the Net Generation, Millennials, and Digital Natives

I don't have a problem with the people labeled this way, but with the labels themselves. They drive me crazy because they're so misleading. I'm getting really frustrated with books, articles and tv shows that talk about the "net generation" as if a) it's homogenous and b) it tells us anything. Yes, the fact that the younger generation is growing up in Facebook means their social relationships are different, but it doesn't mean that those of us in the older crowd aren't also seeing changes in their social relationships as a result of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. To me, claiming that the net generation is a specific generation of kids who were born hooked up to the Internet takes the easy way out. It assumes that they know more than they do about the implications of the technology they're hooked up too. It can also serve as an excuse for older people to opt out, to say that these things are for young people. Or it can serve as a way to "force" young people to "get back to basics" and learn to read a book already. Or, it can leave older people frantically trying to keep up with the technology but falling into the same trap as their younger counterparts by not fully appreciating the implications of the technology they're using.

Right now, I'm reading two books that tout the special abilities of the net generation, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World HC and Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. I'm only a little ways through both of them. Don Tapscott, the author of Grown Up Digital, has finally inserted a caveat that this generation hasn't come to grips with how to handle privacy. That's about 75 pages in. There are a few things I've read recently that have found that the idea of digital natives is a myth. The thing is, if push comes to shove, I'm going to classify myself as a digital native even though I'm a good 10 years older than the oldest supposed native. Why? Because I was a native before Facebook and Web 2.0. I read bbs, subscribed to email lists, participated in IRC chats, read newsgroups, played video games, and played around with very early web browers. But because most of those activities never made it to the mainstream, no one really made a big deal about it. But those things laid the groundwork for what we have now and most authors and journalists treat all this Web 2.0 stuff as if it burst forth fully formed and nothing came before.

The nature of Web 2.0 is indeed a game changer for many industries, but the change is not going to wait for the next generation to get into the work force and it's been happening over a pretty long period of time. Heck, my generation never expected to work in one job forever. And that's the other problem with labelling a whole generation this way. There's this idea that once the workforce is made up of a majority of netgens, then it will change. Um, not so much. The change is happening before our eyes. And yes, the more netgeners are in the workforce, the more things will change, but it's not going to happen in one fell swoop. Work, education, even government are gradually adopting so-called netgen attitudes. We can't ignore it, and we must adapt. And we can't assume that the netgeners have all the answers. While we adapt, we don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For example, we may need to connect in different ways via different media, but communication skills are still important.

Once I'm through various books and articles, I'm sure I'll have more to say, but this issue is getting under my skin at the moment, so I needed to get it out there.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

It's a good life so far

I'm three days into the new year work week and am quite pleased with myself, I must say. I have kept to a good schedule, kept the guilt away when I'm taking down time, and have continued purging stuff. So far, I've been starting the day at 8 by working on a writing project. I'm mostly outlining and planning right now and not really writing yet, but I've been doing that for an hour and a half every morning. My goal had been an hour, so this is good. After that I check email and think about what I want to do in the morning and then in the afternoon. I'm keeping it simple. Monday, I kept working past 3 because I hadn't finished what I was working on. Geeky Girl even pitched in to help me. Yesterday and today, I've pretty much finished by 3 and focused on the kids.

I've discovered (quite belatedly) that I do have a tendency to get anxious about big projects, not overly so, but enough to add to my stress level in ways that are unpleasant. So my strategy has been just to plug away at things and not to worry if I get bogged down a bit. So far, I'm working pretty far in advance and need not get too worked up about things taking longer than I thought. Planning to work on something all morning or all afternoon also helps me feel focused and in control and like I'm making progress. If I need to stop somewhat in the middle, I've been putting the next tasks on a list to remind me what to begin with or focus on the next time I work on the project. So far, so good.

stillAnother area that I've become quite aware of is the guilt I have in *not* working. I think I've blogged this before, but for some reason, I'm always worrying about whether I've worked enough or if I'm doing enough or whatever. I actually found myself asking around lunch time the other day, "If I work for just 2 hours after lunch, is that enough?" Crazy, I know. I was clocking myself in. I am trying not to care anymore. I don't have to clock in. What counts as "work" for me is very arbitrary. For example, is it work if I read a book in my field while I'm in the bathtub? By doing something in a pleasant location, do I make it not work? If I enjoy it, is it not work? Yes, I have things to do that others are depending on, but most of what I'm doing now is for me. If I decide the effort isn't worth it or find myself gravitating toward something else, then fine. What I'm finding really is that if I just let myself do what I'm naturally inclined to do, I'm more productive. I'm actually "working" close to a 7-hour day right now, but it doesn't feel like it. I'm not exhausted at the end of the day. I still have energy to read with my kids, to deal with a little housework, to goof around with the cat.

In two weeks, the class begins, and I think it's going to be quite simple to fit it in. I'm already prepping this week and the workshop I'm prepping for will be over by then. I'll just have to get into a new groove. But so far, I'm feeling truly groovy.

Day 7: Catching drops of water


Day 7: Catching drops of water, originally uploaded by lorda.

It's not Friday, but I had to blog this photo. I took about 15 shots to finally get this one.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Scanning without fancy software

Yesterday, it was my responsibility to get our first week's materials digitized. I could have gone in to campus and used the equipment there, but I have a scanner at home and since the originals were in books, a sheet feeder wouldn't have helped me at all. What I don't have at home is the Adobe suite of software. I'm used to using Acrobat Professional to create good quality pdfs that are still a small file size. Without that, I was left with just the scanner software itself (Epson). My first document went fine, though it was a bit large at just over 1 mb. The second document, however, checked in at over 1.5 mb and that kept me from being able to upload it to the class blog site. So, I checked all my settings and noticed that the resolution was at 300. I reduced that to 150dpi and voila! a file under 1 mb. I suspect that I could do slightly better with Acrobat. The key is to make sure that you're scanning as text, not as a photograph and that your resolution is not too high. In theory, I could bump it down to 72 (screen resolution) but since it's likely that students will print the documents out, I wanted to make sure the printouts were readable. The Epson software allowed me to scan multiple pages and even rotate them all before saving the document, so it may not be the fanciest software in the world, but it works.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Post Vacation Mondays are Rough

We're all dragging a little around here, having spent the last two weeks staying up late and sleeping in. For whatever reason, Mr. Geeky bounded out of bed and has been dealing with most of the usual morning routine for which I am extremely grateful.

Toward the end of the break, I started thinking about how I wanted to approach the new year in terms of "productivity." I had read this article in Wired where Chris Hardwick tries three different productivity systems. I had only read GTD (of course), but had toyed with buying the other two, so I was grateful to Hardwick for having read them for me. I gleaned a few good tidbits from his experience.

1. Don't check email in the morning. I had already decided not to check email in the morning. I used to check it, oh, about now, before I'd even finished coffee. This is a bad idea. Email contains stuff other people want you to do and when you're working for yourself, you should put your own work first. Yes, some of it will be responses to your own queries and from people you really want to hear from, but it will all still be there a couple of hours from now. I managed to not check email at all over the last week. This was hard at first, but got really easy later on.

2. Take breaks completely away from your work. Go for a walk in the park. Knit. For god's sake, get away from the computer! Hardwick actually did go for a walk and found it really did clear his head. I'm not sure he'll keep up with it, but it's something I definitely want to do. It will go nicely with my resolution to get outside more.

3. Think in terms of next actions. This is something I got from David Allen, of course, but Hardwick took this message to heart too. It is the one thing that I think is really useful in breaking down tasks. For example, one of my resolutions is to remodel a room in the house. Mr. Geeky and I would both like to work on the bathroom. The first thing we need to do is find potential contractors. So, I put on my list "Search Angie's List for Contractor for Bathroom." Simple. When I'm done with that, I'll put, "Call so-and-so for bathroom consult and estimate."

Although this didn't come from Hardwick, another approach I'm taking is to only focus on three things in any given day. I'm also going to constantly review my tasks and goals to make sure things are balanced. I think in the past I've always put too much on my plate because that's what most of these productivity plans encourage. Even the 4-day workweek book is about starting businesses and making enough money to hire people to do everything for you. The work may be frontloaded, but it's still a lot of work. Now I have an eye to keep my days as open as possible instead of trying to be "productive."

Friday, January 02, 2009

Travel day

Today we head back home. It's been a nice visit but I think we're all ready to be back home in our familiar surroundings. We have the weekend to recover and then it's back to school for the kids, back to reality. January for me is filled with a few deadlines. I'm conducting a day-long workshop in a couple of weeks and classes begin on the 22nd. There's still some prep to do for both. I'm hoping to establish a good routine before classes begin so that I can fit everything else I want to do around the class. This week I need to get my office set up and organized. I have to finish getting my workshop together and I need to finish the class blog and digitizing some of the materials. I also need to set up some appointments related to my business and I'm hoping to get a podcast out this week. And I'm hoping to do all that without stressing myself out. Hah! That's going to be very important to me though. I need to do enough to move toward my goals and get what needs to get done done, but not feel completely frazzled about it. And that, I think, will be the ultimate challenge and something I'll be working on this whole year.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year


Sun through the window, originally uploaded by lorda.

I hope everyone started the year off well. We went to a big party, where I knew just a couple of people. It was fun but not quite what I might have chosen to do. We survived, stopping by another friend's house on our way home, then celebrating a little with the kids when we got home.

I have been thinking about my resolutions for the last couple of days. In general, my theme for the year is simplify and balance. So here are some of the things I'd like to accomplish this year.

Career/Professional
-write every day to work towards completing two projects
-officially set up my business

Home/Family
-take the kids on an international trip
-go on a date with my husband at least twice a month
-remodel a room
-continue to get rid of stuff and organize

Personal
-get outside at least 3 times a week
-get to know my city

There's actually a lot more I want to do, but I'm going to take it one day, one week, one month at a time, continuing to evaluate as I go. i feel positive about the coming year. It feels full of possibility and change and for me that's a very good thing.

I'd love to see everyone's resolutions--link below if you want. And Happy New Year!