Saturday, February 28, 2009
My own papers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Delaware County News, declared bankruptcy this week. I've been reading my news online for years and these papers have the crappiest web sites I've ever seen. I suspect that they lost quite a few readers that way. And quite frankly, my local paper doesn't seem to cover very important stories. Quite often, it reprints stories from the Inquirer and the local stories all bleed. There's very little coverage of local politics or really local anything that isn't crime related. I think one reason blogs have bcome popular is that people are craving something more than the "if it bleeds it leads" kind of stories. And blogs may not always be good journalism, but at least for the very best of them, their content is substantive. My impression is that the Rocky did have substantive content and was a good paper. It's sad that the community lost that. I'm sure it will be missed.
Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Image via WikipediaThis week, an article in the Daily Mail featured Lady Susan Greenfield telling us that the Internet is not good for us. Good grief. Ars Technica, among others, point out that neither the article nor Greenfield point to any real research supporting her claims. If the Internet is making us stupid, then who are these people who recognize a lack of data to support claims?
There has been some research on this topic, which has been inconclusive. The concern is that kids/teenagers who are online or in front of screens too much and not interacting with people face-to-face might be losing valuable social skills. They might, for example, be losing the ability to read facial expressions and body language, both of which help people to communicate effectively. Fair enough. But that's not the Internet's fault. That's a result of the kid not being encouraged to balance their screen time with other activities. I'm loath to completely blame parents here, but obviously, that's one place to look. On the other hand, the research shows that older people can benefit from being online by creating new neural pathways, thus learning new things.
The Daily Mail article and Greenfield never actually say that the Internet is bad, but that it can change or may change the way we think. I've seen so many articles about various technologies that always assume change is bad. Change is neutral. It's what we do with it that's good or bad.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Image via WikipediaThere's been a bit of discussion about this NY Times article about the humanities needing to prove they're worth the money in such trying economic times. I should say here and now that I have a degree in English from a SLAC, so I hope that gives me some credibility.
Tim Burke says some of what I've been thinking, that the humanities cannot justify themselves through an argument that the discipline is important because it is. Tim puts it this way:
I think the default reliance on disciplinary justifications for continued support are just as dead. Many humanistic disciplines have long privileged tautological arguments about the value of research and teaching: what they do is important because the discipline deems it important. A good project is a project which advances the work of the discipline. In particular, if you concede some new resource limitations or imperatives, I think the humanities mostly have to give up the disciplinary proposition that what we do is primarily discovery, that we research subjects and information which are unknown and turn them into knowledge.What I was thinking mostly is that the humanities has become somewhat of a ghetto at many institutions as requirements for those courses have fallen away, either for practical or budgetary reasons. The NY Times article claims that the humanities have become an elitist course of study by people, I suppose, who can afford to major in Art History because daddy has the right connections to get them any job they want after college. I think part of the problem is that as faculty have specialized further and further and focused on "advancing the discipline" and, of course, themselves in the process, they no longer teach courses that would be appealing or appropriate for the physics and business majors out there. As the article alludes to, but doesn't directly say, a good course in ethics for all those Wall Street investors might have prevented some of our current financial fallout. So my thought is that the humanities need to come out of their elite or ghettoized (whatever your point of view is) and start infusing themselves into many other disciplines. There need to be courses, perhaps, that are cross-disciplinary. And I think institutions need to value to work of creating those courses and perhaps find a way to slow down the "creation of knowledge" aspect of humanities work and encourage more thoughtful teaching.
Some of the interviewees in the article imply that what needs to happen is a kind of "back to basics" approach, a return to the "great works," etc. I actually think just the opposite, that we need to broaden what we mean by the humanities and what humanistic courses encompass. Certainly many of the old lessons apply, but I think we need to try to apply them more directly, to have the conversation, for example, about our online identities and what it means to be human in cyberspace as well as meatspace.
I personally value my humanities background and I cast my net wide when I was in school, taking econ classes, business classes, physics, and computer science in addition to the writing and literature classes I "needed" for my major. Too often, however, the econ majors don't venture into a literature class and that's especially true at larger schools. We need to find a way to encourage econ majors to venture into more humanities classes by making them more obviously applicable (I can imagine, for example, a course that studies novels from the Great Depression or whose main characters are investment bankers) or to teach econ humanistically (easier with econ maybe than with physics).
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Image via WikipediaI just finished watching "The Biggest Loser" and opened up my reader to find this post by Horace at To Delight and Instruct. Although I personally judge myself and compare my body to others', I'd never thought of how the medical profession might contribute to this. Horace describes the way his doctor compares his vital signs to his wife's. And then says this:
That we think of even vital signs in this hierarchical way suggests to me the degree to which we are willing to judge, rank and hierarchize based on simplistic measurements and perceptions of bodies that are constructed in complicated and multi-functional and multi-contextual ways strikes me as, at the very least, symptomatic of a cultural conditioning to view the material body as a legible marker of subjectivity, and on a more sinister level, a somewhat more conspicuous and perhaps even vaguely conscious effort on the part of the medical community (and even more, of the medical tchnology and pharmaceutical industries) to transform physical flesh into a value marker, with ideological, moral, and capital value.I never worry about going to the doctor, mostly because I get the same kind of praise that Horace and his wife do. My vital signs are good. My weight is good. But I do hate going to the dentist because I never floss enough. I get shamed on a regular basis. You know, why doesn't the dentist just clean my teeth, and unless there's an obvious problem, leave out the condemnation altogether. I imagine that people with non-teeth-related health issues feel the same way I do about going to the dentist. As a result, I don't go to the dentist as often as I should and I'm sure the same happens for others when it comes to doctor's visits. And what a shame. And it is a terrible thing to shame someone when they really haven't done much wrong. Maybe they're trying hard. Certainly, the doctor can't get into the complexities of their health situation in a 15 minute appointment.
I think Horace's post hit a nerve, too, because we've been discussing cosmetic surgeries of various kinds in our class and this whole issue of the body as something that our values are written on has come up again and again. It's interesting to see the same issue in a slightly different context.
Monday, February 23, 2009
The above video was one of two videos we showed near the beginning of our presentation for Northern Voice. Nancy White started off by having everyone draw pictures together. The idea was to have them feel a little uncomfortable working together. I did get upset with Barbara for making a squiggle where I didn't want one. :) The videos were meant to explore the discomfort of navigating digital and physical spaces and to explore the discomfort one might feel in doing that, or in Barbara's case, what her clients (citizens of small rural towns) feel.
We debriefed quite a bit afterward, and I'm still thinking about it. What Nancy was interested was the space between the different spaces we might occupy--virtual, digital, global, local. Whether we feel comfortable or not with whatever group, the movement, the transition from one to another is often quite difficult. Many of us are experiencing that transition today (or yesterday) by moving from the intense mostly like-minded environment of Northern Voice to our work and home spaces. For me, this transition was made all the more unsettling thanks to missed flights that led to my traveling all night. Really, it seems to me that it is this in between state that we occupy most of the time, a strange space where we can conceive of ourselves in different spaces and feel fragmented and whole at the same time. I'd like to say that for me this is when I'm at home, but that's not entirely true. I think I have this feeling that only part of myself appears in any given space. The idea of multiple identities is nothing new, of course, but living it so vividly by having these digital persona running around feels somehow disruptive.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except to say that it's good when your own presentation makes you think. One of the things I said in the presentation was how difficult I was finding it to move as freely in the physical world I have access to as the virtual ones. The people I see at school and on the street (aside from my students) don't even know about the virtual spaces I live in much less use them. I can't have the flow I have with the people I knew online and then met this weekend or the ones I met this weekend and am now reading their blogs or following them on Twitter. When I see them again, it's not quite like we haven't seen each other in a while. We have some sense of each other's lives in between. So how do I build relationships with people offline and maintain them without technology? Seriously. That's my big question. The local friends I do, we follow each other via Twitter, keep in touch via email and blogs, and arrange the occasional drinking fest at someone's house or local bar. But where I'm stumbling is trying to make connections not just for friendship but to effect change. Now that the election is over, it's the little things we need to work on--school board budgets, PTA meetings, land development--that really aren't so little and my impression is that much of the connecting for that happens elsewhere, not online, but in the library and the coffee shop and at the grocery store. I just need to get my ass out of the chair and go to those places and "follow" the right people.
What about you? What are your in between spaces like? How to you maintain physical connections with or without technology?
Sunday, February 22, 2009
I ended up giving two presentations thanks to Leslie prodding me to help her present on Gender and Blogging. That turned out to be a really fun presentation. We tried to simply frame the issue based on our recent on-blog conversations and then ask the audience to weigh in. People had some very interesting things to say and they continue to come up and talk to Leslie and me afterward. We didn't come up with any profound answers to the question of whether certain blog categories were more or less inviting to women or whether it was even an issue. One interesting thing that came out of it was when Leslie asked how many of the people in the room started their blog under a pseudonym. Almost all the women raised their hands and only one man did. By far my favorite moment, though, was when D'Arcy said, quite earnestly, that he'd been wondering if there's something he was doing on his blog to make it unfriendly to women. As I said then, no, there isn't. I think there's a complex dynamic going on that has to do with what men are doing when they're blogging and commenting and what women are doing. And even saying that makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable because it assumes that there's some kind of "normal" behavior for men and women.
Like our presentation on gender, my presentation with Barbara and Nancy about Limbo--the spaces between online and offline spaces--we didn't have enough time to really flesh out all the issues. But we did get to dance! I have a lot more to say about the presentation itself, including links to the videos Barbara and I led off with. The debrief of the session with Nancy and Barbara was as fun as the presentation itself.
Saturday night, hanging out with new friends and old, I laughed more than I've laughed in a long time. We all had some truly funny quirky stories, tales of woe from high school, old jobs, etc. It was great to feel like I was among fellow travelers. We also came up with new multimillion dollar ideas that I think don't look so good in the light of day, but at the time seemed fabulous.
Now I'm looking at taking a red-eye home thanks to the only misconnection of the weekend, and heading into a had week ahead, but I feel revived somehow. I feel reconnected with myself, with my goals, inspired by what I heard over the last few days. Thank you, Northern Voice and all the people who made it so worthwhile.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Anyway, I'm traveling today, headed to Vancouver for Northern Voice. I have a long layover here--another hour to go and I'm sitting on the floor with another woman, charging my laptop, which, sadly, won't be fully charged in time for my flight. My phone is also dead, but there ar eno more open outlets. Hello? Airports? Get some freaking outlets!
I did have a nice meal which included a margarita, thus the lack of outlets is not as painful as it might be. I like airports with decent food options. It pleases me.
On the other hand, I have a fairly long flight ahead--3 hours I think. I'm definitely not grading the whole time. Sorry students. I grade electronically anyway, so I think I won't have the battery power to do much anyway. I'm guessing it'll last an hour. I entertained myself on the last flight with Sex and the City. I highly recommend it as a fluffy "chick flick" though I don't recommend watching it on a plane. I cry easily during movies=-enough said. So now I have to figure out how I'm going to entertain myself for two more hours. I lean toward the magazine direction for flights as my concentration is easily broken, so deep thoughts are not possible. So far, I've only found a store that sells books--no magazines. Weird, huh. And I have this power dilemma--can't leave the laptop.
I like traveling, but I certainly feel trapped. I imagine that caged animals feel much the same, trying to figure out how to entertain themselves with limited options. I'm trying my best not to feel that it's like this outside of airports, too.
Monday, February 16, 2009
First, there's the fact that the grocery stores around here are small, which would be fine except that it's the aisles that are small and so many people tend to park their carts in ways that prevent anyone from passing them. I'm okay with brief distraction, but occasionally, someone seems to park and then examine entire shelves of products, comparing ingredients and prices while the rest of us wait.
Second, there's the general layout of the store that seems to defy logic. Why are juices three aisles over from sodas? Why are pickles and olives not with other canned and jarred items? Currently, the store I shop at is remodelling, so the layout is even more confusing.
But by far the most frustrating thing about grocery shopping is that I have to bag my own groceries. Seriously, this was the biggest shock to me when I moved here. I've lived in two different locations in two parts of the country where they bagged for you (not including my hometown where they also bag for you) and when I went to the grocery store for the first time after we moved here, I was flabbergasted by the fact that I had to bag my own groceries. I am not good at this and there's pressure from the other people in line to bag quickly. I'm not as efficient as a truly good bagger so I use more bags or I squish something important.
Actually, back when I was kid, I remember that not only did our store bag, but we also drove the car up to the door and they loaded for us. I don't mean to sound like a snob, but I miss this kind of service and I'd be willing to pay for it.
What are your shopping experiences?
I know this blog is random and all over the place, which doesn't lend itself to being read regularly by people who are interested in specific topics. I personally like the randomness of it, even while I recognize that it means I don't get linked to by others as often. And I know that randomness is typical of many women bloggers. Although not true of all women, of course, women tend to mush the different parts of their lives together more than men and that tendency is reflected in their blogs. Except Jim's blog is random, too, but it's random in a different way than mine. I'm not sure I've ever seen him post about his kids or his family or personal life, really. His topics may shift, but they never drift to the personal. Maybe men shy away from the personal, both in their reading and posting habits. Maybe women are drawn to the personal and so are not drawn to male-authored blogs. I don't know. I do know there's research out there and I do wish I knew more. Please do comment on this issue if you have thoughts and can point me in different directions.
*For the record, I just want to note that I know that we don't always know what gender a blogger is, nor do we know what relationship their gender has to their biological sex. And further, I also recognize and appreciate that gender is not a category that can be easily divided into male-female. But I do recognize that people tend to do that and that certain patterns related to gender identity seem to emerge and I'm interested in those.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Getting teaching rolled into my job was something I continually argued for. I lost. Funny that for one college, it becomes a cost-saving strategy rather than something that might make staff jobs more interesting and give them important perspective on the teaching side of the college.
Ms. Townsley said officials were selecting teachers from a pool of staff members and administrators "who are professionally qualified and want to teach so that we maintain quality in the classroom." The goal is to have them teach during the day, in the college's evening program, or online. They will get time during their regular work day to teach, grade papers, and perform other teaching-related duties, she said. Those who don't end up teaching will take on the duties of their co-workers who are.
"This just organically grew out of what we'd been doing," said Alan J. Reinhardt, vice president and dean of academic affairs and one of the people who suggested the cost-cutting move to Ms. Townsley. With a vice president and dean of student services teaching in the psychology department, a director of development who writes for the college magazine and has taught in the English department, and a director of human resources who has taught human-resources courses both online and live, among others, the framework was already in place, Mr. Reinhardt says.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I think I finished the Ph.D. this time and not the last time because I loved my topic. I had always loved it, but I didn't realize it until I started working on it. I had chosen my former topic because people told me I was good at it and because I thought it would land me "a good job." Once I realized there were no good jobs really, I just did what I wanted.I have done many a thing in life because I thought it would make me look cool or look better to a particular group of people I was trying to impress. And most of the time it made me miserable. I've learned to recognize when that's happening, of course, but there are subtle ways it often comes back into play. I feel like I ought to do things a certain way, read certain things, or watch certain shows. And now I'm stopping and asking myself if I'm doing something because I want to or because I think it makes me look "right."
Now, I'm not eliminating doing things that I ought to, but don't want to do--like eating well, exercising, or cleaning up--but I focus on what I want to obtain out of those things, not those things themselves or what they say about who I am. For example, long ago, I wanted to be seen as "the kind of person that exercises," so I started jogging, tried to take up sports, etc. It. did. not. work. I am not the kind of person that exercises, but I can exercise if my goal fits something I really want for myself. Right now, I really do want to look good in a bathing suit, which I know sounds vain and all, but seriously, that's what I want.
So I'm trying to focus on that as I think about what I'm doing, what I'm going to do, and not be drawn to things that might garner great comments at cocktails parties, but that would make me really unhappy.
First, on the organization front. All the students are posting at least once a week and sometimes much more than that, and that's all going well. But, Anne and I keep notes and other class-keeping stuff on pages and we are also having our students create pages for their papers, so as not to disrupt the regular flow of posts. I had used the parent-child scheme to organize some things and we'd kind of figured out the ordering process that uses a numbering/weighting system, but it was very clunky and we were concerned about that clunkiness from the standpoint of the student. To solve the ordering situation, I used PageMash, a simple plugin that implements a drag-and-drop interface to allow for complete rearranging of your pages. You can drag things from one parent to another, reorder the parents (the children tag along), hide pages from the menu and even edit them from this interface. It's really quite useful.
The second organizational problem we needed to solve was the paper submission situation. We set up a parent page and asked students to post their papers as pages and then to create a link to their page on the parent page. Well, this seemed like too many steps, so I went looking for a way to automatically generate those links. It took a lot of digging, but I found the perfect thing, List Subpages. You can see this in action on our notes page. It was the successful implementation of this feature that put me over the edge into WordPress High Mode.
On the community front, we wanted to create more intrablog conversation. We have Recent Comments highlighted at the top of the page, but we had noticed that many people seemed to be posting in a vacuum. I implemented Yet Another Related Posts Plugin to generate related posts at the end of each post (you have to be on an individual post page to see them) in the hopes of showing students what other people had written that might be related and that they might then go comment on it.
All of this work highlights a few things.
- One, the technology needs of any given class are very individual and specific. I'm lucky in that my co-teacher and I are both tech savvy. We've both been teaching online for a while, so we know what our goals are. Those goals have shifted a little over the course of the semester, prompting us to make technical changes to the blog. But there are plenty of other teachers who still have those very specific needs, but don't have the knowledge to know how to meet those needs technologically. A good technologist should be able to help those people find the appropriate tools as well as implement them appropriately.
- Two, it's really, really important for technology to not be a barrier to teaching and learning. It can't be difficult or cumbersome for students to post their work or for teachers to present their material and interact with and evaluate their students. As a technologist, you can't just shrug and say, well this is the way it is. You need to keep searching for the technology that presents the fewest barriers.
- Three, doing all this right takes a lot of time. Even though I'm co-teaching the content for this course and not just serving as the technical guru, I think having a technologist deeply involved in a class would be a good idea. Unfortunately, that's not very cost effective. My idea would be that a technologist would work closely with maybe three faculty, including working with them during initial class prep and attending class. We kind of sort of tried to do this with students, but it wasn't entirely successful. But I think it would be really valuable not just for the teacher, but for the technologist, who would get to see things "from the other side" in a really concrete and detailed way.
Monday, February 09, 2009
On Mondays, I teach. I usually go in at 10 to plan out the week with my co-teacher, grab some lunch, finish up some prep things for class and then teach until 4. I am home by 4:30. Mr. Geeky and the kids have been home since 3 or 4 and everybody kind of pounces on me. Since it's not dinner time yet and there's nothing really to be done and no one's as tired as they were in the old days, there's a lot more demand for interaction and I'm finding I'm just not in the mood. I mean, I've put in a full day, most of it interacting with people. I need to be alone!
Yeah, I know I sound like the 1950s dad who came home and put on his slippers and began reading the paper, ignoring the rest of the family. Well, I'm here to say, I get it. And it's really only one day a week that it's an issue.
Someone, somewhere will claim I'm terrible mom. Well, I don't care. I'm human.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Sunday, Mr. Geeky and I got up early and then walked over to our local breakfast spot. We've only been there a few times, but it's a place with no menu and a random collection of family and customer photos everywhere. Over the grill is a whiteboard that always has either a Bible verse or a religiously-inspired message. Mr. Geeky and I noticed that behind us hung two photos of Obama's inauguration. We found this interesting since it contradicted the political vibe we were getting from the decor and from the clientele. The food there is good, though not fabulous, and the business, thankfully, seems to be thriving. We've seen one local business close down already.
After breakfast, I threw myself into laundry and other household chores, recruiting Mr. Geeky and the kids as necessary. I had decided that I didn't want to start Monday surrounded by dirty clothes and clutter. Many loads of laundry and some newly hung shelves later, I felt free. I prepped for class. I even made cookies. It was kind of wacky. Maybe it was all the coffee.
On another note, I've not been as engrossed in the news lately. I know there's a stimulus package working it's way through Congress. I'm actually pretty pissed about the whole thing, but have nothing intelligent to say about it. Mostly I'm tired of hearing a bunch of rich people complain about how the bill costs too much, doesn't cut taxes enough, or whatever. I see future Tom Daschle's there, not the working men and women whose lives are truly being affected by the crisis. And bleh to this Kristof column. He's condescending to both scientists and women. And yet, the column is supposed to be about how banks need more women. It's weird.
Although I sometimes wish I were keeping up with more, part of me feels like my stress level is better off without reading or watching politicians and pundits yell at each other.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
A final reason for our reluctance to ask for help, I think, is the feeling that we made this bed, so it is ours to lie in. We chose to have these children, or marry the less than egalitarian spouse, or be a mother and hold down a full-time job, or leave a the paid workforce to take on more of the load at home.I was feeling pretty bad this last week when I couldn't keep up with both the house and the work, especially since most of the work I was doing I wasn't getting paid for. I was in this bind of, "I'm not bringing in cash so I should contribute more on the household front, but I don't have the time, but if I do the housework, I can't get the business going, but . . ." And I *chose* this course of action, of quitting a regular paying job for this crazy life, so I was thinking I couldn't ask for help. And I know plenty of women, myself included, who just assume that they've married these enlightened men and the men will just figure it out. Well, I can tell you, Mr. Geeky is quite enlightened and there's quite a bit he's figured out all by himself, but I still have to ask him to do laundry. And I have to let go of being mad that I have to ask. Because no one's a mind reader. He has no idea that while I'm working on a project, in the back of my mind is the nagging thought that Geeky Boy might not have any more clean underwear. Now I think men could ask more often if there's anything they could do to help, but you know, I'm not gonna wait around anymore for that to happen. And maybe, if I ask for help more often, my husband and kids will start to ask.
For example, most of my high school classmates have now found me on Facebook. The first person to find me a couple of years ago was my best friend (we'd already found each other's blogs), and that was cool. It was a great way to stay in touch and it faciliated the ability for us to visit each other. But then the peripheral friends started friending me and I wasn't sure what to do about that. So I friended them and that was okay, but now all my current real friends are mixed in with former students, former classmates from high school, college and grad school and it's getting pretty messy. I unsuccessfully tried to use Facebook to arrange a gathering while I was in my home town over the holidays, and that failed miserably (I totally felt like I was in high school again), not because of Facebook, per se, but now I'm wondering why I have those people in my friend list anyway if I can't even contact them to have lunch because I'm not entirely sure I want them to know about my day-to-day activities. And likely vice versa.
Over the weekend, I friended the mom of one of my daughter's friends. This, too, strikes me as odd. I actually wrote her a note when I friended her just to say that I was surprised to find another mom on FB. I did it mainly to keep in touch with the mom circuit. She works full time, but also seems involved in a lot of local mom-related activities.
So, I think Facebook makes me feel like George Costanza--my worlds collide.
Monday, February 02, 2009
I'm doing the best in the career/work goals I set for myself, so maybe what I'm really feeling is a lack of balance in not working on the other areas more. I also think I'm still trying to get into some kind of routine now that classes have begun and the family being sick last week did not help that. So, I'm adjusting. And I must admit that winter really gets to me. I'm not as inclined to leave the house and I dislike the cold and the dreariness. Although Punxatawny Phil did see his shadow relegating us to 6 more weeks of winter, spring really isn't that far away. All that's to say to myself that it's not that bad, and things will get better. Once again, I call on my friend Dory, "just keep swimming."