Monday, December 31, 2007

Auld Lang Syne

So rarely do we hear all the stanzas of this poem by Robert Burns, but I really like the entire song. So here it is, inspired by Propter Doc's post.

What are your New Year's traditions? My family used to watch Johnny Carson, then run out of the house at midnight banging on pots and pans. We'd each run around a tree three times for good luck. My mom claimed the tree-circling was an old Scottish tradition (maybe actually derived from British apple orchard wassailing?), but who knows its real origin? Doubtless few people perform such a ritual by running around suburban palm trees. And wouldn't it be funny if our ritual really was making the queen palms more fertile? Just what you want. . . more hard, waxy little dates on the sidewalk.

Happy New Year, and best wishes to all of you.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

I'm sick to my stomach

Someone recently found my blog by searching for the phrase "jeff gordon scrapbook layouts."

2007 Year-in-Review Meme

2007, like 2006, is already a blur to me, but I'm going to do my darndest to answer these thoughtfully.

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?
Learned to negotiate, not always successfully, with a two-year-old.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Allow me to quote New Kid: "I probably made some half-assed ones, and did nothing to keep them." For 2008, see my post 101 things in 1001 days.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
A couple of students in my grad program did, yes--both of them from the same cohort of six people. And the same fertile cohort has another one on the way in 2008. Must be something about being ABD in the humanities. . . (Actually, now that I think of it, two of them had/have AAUW fellowships. Maybe that's the ticket.)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?
Just this one. I'm recovering financially from grad school.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
More quality time with Mr. Trillwing.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
None in particular--just a vague sequence of Lucas's developmental milestones.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting my current job. I really enjoy it.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not getting fit. In fact, getting less fit.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Oh god, yes. I have a child in daycare. On Christmas night, Mr. Trillwing had to clamp himself to me under the covers because I had a fever that was so bad I couldn't stop trembling--I could barely breathe. Thanks, daycare!

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Not sure. Probably something to keep Lucas entertained--art supplies. The most significant thing we acquired is my parents' old Toyota Avalon.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Mr. Trillwing, who deserves a medal for parenting.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I was disappointed by the behavior of the backstabber mentioned in this post. Also, just about the entire U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. And this week, the more I read about the SF Zoo's current director, the less thrilled I am with him. (I'm following the tiger story closely. Check out this article for more astonishing who-knew-what-when news.)

14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, daycare, food, credit cards.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Going back to visit Grinnell for alumni volunteer weekend. Also: watching Mr. Trillwing become an even more awesome father.

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?
Once again I return you to "The Highwayman." I really like the theme of rebirth, especially (as I'm interpreting it at this moment) of professional rebirth.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Happier, the same, slightly wealthier. I've also had more sleep.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Reading, writing, exercise, hanging out with Mr. Trillwing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Procrastinating, facilitated by my RSS feed addiction.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I spent it with my extended family in Long Beach. It's very, very stressful for Mr. Trillwing, so unless one of us has a terminally ill family member, we're very likely to spend next Christmas day here. Luke and I will fly down to see my family just after Christmas so that they don't feel deprived.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?
Again and again, with Mr. Trillwing and Lucas.

22. How many one-night stands?
I do not know this "one-night stand" you speak of. And hello? I'm happily married.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Lost, Big Love, Flight of the Conchords, Studio 60, Weeds (on DVD).

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I don't think I can hate anyone. But see #13 for resentments.

25. What was the best book you read?
Probably a tie between Water for Elephants and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Usually I'm not so impressed with books on the bestseller lists, but these were terrific.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Not sure. Lucas's, however, was definitely Johnny Cash. I guess I rediscovered The Highwaymen.

27. What did you want and get?
A job at the teaching resources center.

28. What did you want and not get?
A job at the humanities institute. But that's OK. I'm happy where I am.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
I think I saw all of two films in the theater this year: Dan in Real Life and Superbad. I think Dan wins out.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I can't remember what we did. But I turned 32.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Moving sooner into my current job.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?
Pushing the edges of business casual into frumpiness.

33. What kept you sane?
Not sure. Maybe motherhood, out of necessity.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Not sure.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Climate change. Though why it should be a political issue is beyond me. The earth is fucked up. Could we please take steps to remediate it, already?

36. Who did you miss?
My grandfathers. I wish they could watch Lucas navigate the full flower of his toddlerhood.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.
Professionally, to be proactive (office settings can render folks passive, you know?). Personally, I didn't know I had so much love in me--but Lucas keeps bringing it out.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Seriously? Is this, like, seventh grade? Should I be dedicating a Tiffany song to someone?

101 Things in 1001 days

I've decided to participate in the 101 things in 1001 days meme.

I'm leaving the list a bit open-ended right now, so that I can add things as I wish. As of January 1, 2008, this list has 77 items. My end date is September 28, 2010.

Academic (7)
  • Renew IRB approval for dissertation research
  • Revise dissertation into book [in progress]
  • Submit final draft of article to journal [done!]
  • Secure IRB approval for project on collectors and collecting
  • Make 30 key contacts for project on collectors and collecting
  • Write “scrambled eggs” paper on chicken eggs and fertility anxieties
  • Begin tentative research for that other women scientists fertility project

Blogging (4)
  • Write at least 2x week at Clutter Museum [getting closer to this]
  • Write 2x month for MuseumBlogging
  • Write 2x month for Multicultural Toybox
  • Update blogroll quarterly

Bureaucracy (6)
  • Clear my desk completely on the first and fifteenth of each month. [I'm revising this to once per month -- and keeping up with it]
  • Finally type up and notarize our wills.
  • Create spreadsheet to better track debt repayment, retirement savings, investments.
  • Get important papers in order.
  • Buy a fireproof lockbox and use it to store important papers.
  • Get passports for Mr. Trillwing, Lucas, and me. (I know, I know. . .) [Applied for my own]

Business and Professional (3)
  • Follow up on one idea related to project on collectors and collecting.
  • With Mr. Trillwing, think through his work hours/options. [always in progress]
  • Update my personal website with professional content.

Creative (16)
  • Learn digital illustration: sketch and color, as in the Sunday comics. [getting there, thanks to my new Wacom tablet]
  • Complete three moderate-sized paintings.
  • Complete one themed series of 15-25 photos using newish digital camera.
  • Create some artwork and list it on Etsy any see if anyone bites.
  • Paint model horse resins that have been sitting around for a few years. [in progress]
  • Self-publish book of poetry, probably through
  • Collaborate with Mr. Trillwing on a big writing project.
  • Write one chapter per quarter of novel that’s been brewing for years.
  • Sew a skirt.
  • Make a collage. [making a vision board]
  • Draft text of children’s book.
  • Shop around children’s book, or illustrate and self-publish on Lulu.
  • Finish one scrapbook.
  • Take a class at a craft center.
  • Attend one poetry or fiction reading quarterly.
  • Start or join a fiction writing group.

Family (8)
  • Take Lucas for walks in regional nature preserves at least 4x year.
  • Take Lucas to Yosemite. [done!]
  • Plan Hawaii trip with Mr. Trillwing.
  • Establish regular family meals. [we eat breakfast together, but not yet dinner]
  • Fly a kite with Lucas.
  • Potty train Lucas. [almost there!]
  • Get guitar lessons and make practice time for Mr. Trillwing. [done!]
  • Write, or record with multimedia, at least quarterly letters to Lucas.

Fashion (2)
  • Dress more professionally, especially during non-summer months. [so far so good]
  • Buy one spring/summer dress in which I really look terrific.

Finances (7)
  • Pay down all credit card debt. [chipping away at it. . .]
  • Save up three months of emergency savings. [now a 2009 resolution]
  • Restart mutual fund and stock investments—including an IRA for Mr. Trillwing. [investments restarted, except for Mr. T's IRA. Update: I withdrew funds right before the big stock market crash. Crafty I am, except that I needed the money to spend. *sigh*]
  • Make significant progress on student loan debt. [making regular payments, sometimes above the minimum]
  • Identify “top 5” nonprofits for annual giving (categories: environment, education, women, peace and social justice, health) [semi-finalists thus far: Nature Conservancy, my alma mater, American Friends Service Committee or Friends Committee on National Legislation, Children's Organ Transplant Association, American Cancer Society]
  • Set up account for Hawaii trip w/Mr. Trillwing.

Friends (4)
  • Stay in better touch with good friends from high school and college.
  • Host two big-ish events for my friends each year.
  • Meet in person three bloggers I read. [done!]
  • Have Dr. Wonderful's and Fantastic Mentor’s families over for BBQ once weather warms up.

Gratitude (3)
  • Send 20 thank-you notes. [Sent thus far: 3]
  • Surprise Mr. Trillwing with 20 handmade gifts. [Thus far: 5]
  • Spend more quality time with the dog. [done--and since Woody is no longer with us, I'm busy trying to transfer my affections to Obi]

Home and Garden (6)
  • Grow one. damn. tomato. [done! Grew many!]
  • Improve composting process—get a bin. [improved process, but still binless]
  • Expand backyard garden. [done! Built two raised beds, with plans for more]
  • Have carpets professionally cleaned each January or February (and in July or August if the budget allows).
  • Organize garage. [in progress]
  • Complete one major decluttering/purging project at least every other month. [in progress]

Wellness (11)
  • Bicycle to work at least 3x week when weather permits (between 35 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and not in heavy rain) and I'm not sick.
  • Walk at least 30 minutes 4x week for three consecutive months.
  • Pilates or yoga by video 3x week for three months, then decide whether or not to continue or to try something else. [began this and lost interest, though I know it would be helpful]
  • By September 28, 2010, be able to run 30 minutes without being too winded.
  • Get new more stylish glasses. [done--but I'm already getting tired of them!]
  • Get more comfortable contact lenses. [done!]
  • Take another stab at attending unprogrammed Friends meetings.
  • Do a weekend fruit and juice fast.
  • Find a place to take dressage lessons, and start horseback riding again.
  • Get a new mattress. [done!]
  • Prepare at least one new main dish every other month. (I’m interested in cooking, but I don’t love it.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Family rituals

Lucas loves to look at photos of himself on the computer, so one of our nightly rituals--along with a viewing of Sesame Street and the reading of several books--has him sitting on my lap, pushing buttons on the computer and shouting, "Gookus! Gookus!" (his approximation of his name)

The past several nights, he's added a new twist: he sits on my lap. And looks at photos. And farts.

A lot.

Ah, the glories of motherhood.

Best Christmas sweater EVER

Courtesy of my parents:

Yes, that is a dinosaur crunching candy canes. (If you click to embiggen, you'll see every glorious stitch of reptilian goodness.) Now why isn't there one in my size?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Need advice: housing young siblings

The largest of many stumbling blocks that Mr. Trillwing and I have in thinking about a second child is how we'd make it work without having to move into a larger, more expensive rental home.

See, when Lucas was born, we were living in a two-bedroom apartment: one large bedroom where we all slept, and one bedroom for Mr. Trillwing's office (from which he works 40-55 hours/week). Actually, when I say "we all slept," I mean really "we all lay down occasionally and tried to sleep." For the first few months of Luke's life, he slept in the living room in a car seat or bassinet, while Mr. T and I took turns "sleeping" on the couch. The other partner then slept in the bedroom with two fans running to drown out the baby's cries. Under this system, each partner was assured at least four hours of sleep each night. Otherwise, we'd each get less than three hours, very little of it consecutive.

Probably not coincidentally, Lucas did not sleep regularly through the night until after he was 15 months old, when we moved into this three-bedroom house and gave him his own room.

So, currently we have: our small bedroom, Luke's only slightly smaller bedroom, Mr. T's office. We have a living room/dining room/kitchen area that flows together, and my "office" (desk and chair) is tucked into a corner of the dining room. There really isn't anywhere else in the house where we could put Mr. Trillwing's office because he needs to be able to shut his door to be productive and meet all his newspaper deadlines and, frankly, to remain sane. We can't move his office into the attached garage because of temperature extremes and what would quickly become a sketchy wiring situation.

So here's my question: if we were to have a baby, where would we put him or her? Obviously, for the first three months or so, a bassinet will work fine for the baby--such furniture would fit into our smallish bedroom. If we wanted to put a crib in our bedroom (Lucas outgrew his bassinet at about 3-4 months, if I remember correctly), we'd have to move one of our dressers into the garage, and even then a crib would be a tight squeeze. And having a baby in the room isn't ideal, as experience demonstrated that we all wake each other up, so we'd all be sleep-deprived. (We tried the co-sleeping thing when Lucas was less than a year old, and while it worked for Lucas and me, it was nearly impossible for Mr. T to sleep with the little guy in the bed.)

The end goal would be for Lucas and any new child to share a bedroom. But how the hell does that work, with baby waking up all the time, and Lucas a fitful sleeper to begin with?

If you have two (or more) kids and they share a bedroom, how did you manage the first year or two until the youngest slept consistently through the night? And how did you find time to sleep with two kids under age 4?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Decluttering for the New Year

To be productive as an academic writer, I need all the paper clutter I can see to have solely to do with the project at hand. It also helps if my immediate environment is clean. Since I have become an increasingly disorganized person since Lucas arrived on the scene, I haven't been as intellectually productive as I would like. Having clutter elsewhere in the house doesn't help, either, even if it's not directly in my view.

So I'm cleaning up for the new year. Projects for this week and weekend:

1. Taming the garage. I spent a good chunk of today building a big donation pile in the garage, which makes the garage considerably less scary to walk through. It still needs work, but I'm no longer stressed by its disorder. I have a dozen or so banker's boxes of papers and memorabilia I need to go through, but I now have them stacked in zones where I can tackle them by theme at some future date. In an ideal world, I'd have only 3-4 boxes of memorabilia (photos, letters, various diplomas (I collect degrees!), and whatnot); a box of cleaning products that I store in the garage to keep them away from Lucas; and Luke's old clothes and toys in case we decide to have another child. Mr. Trillwing has an entire side of the garage lined with boxes of comic books, videos, old artwork, photographs, and three shelves of DVDs. He has a lot of stuff, but it seems so much more orderly than mine.

2. Catching up on balancing the checkbook, especially after all that holiday spending. I have a lot of receipts piled up, and I haven't been in the mood to organize my finances. But it must be done. done!

3. Filing. I tend to set papers to be filed under a small table next to my desk. I used to be pretty good about filing them every couple months. I think I have a year's worth of paper sitting there now, and it needs to be organized prior to tax time.

4. Clearing tables. Stuff tends to pile up on the kitchen (craft) table and the dining room (eating) table because in our house, horizontal surfaces attract stuff.

5. Cleaning floors. Ick. Christmas tree needles + cookie crumbs + dog hair. Just ick. done!

6. Taming my closet and dresser. I have too many clothes I don't wear. done!

7. Clearing off my desk.

8. Making a list of goals. I'd like to participate in the 101 things in 1001 days meme, starting on January 1. I like the timeline of 2.75 years instead of tackling individual, ongoing resolutions. done!

How are you preparing for the new year?

Scylla or Charybdis: An allegory for ed tech

In Book XII of The Odyssey, the hero-wanderer Odysseus must navigate his ship through a dangerous, narrow strait. On one side sits the many-headed hydra Scylla, and on the other is the omnivorous whirlpool Charybdis. Odysseus opts to travel closer to Scylla, even though he knows he will lose some of his crew to her many jaws, because he does not want to risk the entire ship by navigating closer to the whirlpool.

Scylla and Charybdis serve as an excellent metaphor of the landscape of instructional technology at many colleges and universities today. Many in IT would like to put in place a system that serves all faculty needs, a single portal that allows faculty to order books, manage instructional grants, organize personal image collections, and set up a gradebook and submit grades, as well as includes all the tools people have come to expect from a course management system: a chat room, discussion forum, blog platform, podcast service, file sharing, and more. The problem from the user perspective is that while a single system may offer many tools, it typically offers only one form of each tool: one blogging platform, one type of discussion forum, one chat room tool. And because the focus is often on integration of these tools into the language of the larger system rather than on developing top-notch tools, these individual tools themselves may be inferior to those available freely elsewhere online. For example, in my opinion the blogging platform in Sakai doesn't even deserve to be called a blog.

On the other side of the straits of ed tech waits the hydra of the “small pieces loosely joined” approach. From the perspective of the IT folks, faculty members who choose to use a hand-picked selection of tools outside the university-provided course management system—e.g. WordPress, Flickr,, Bloglines, YouTube—are courting disaster because they're using platforms that are not officially supported by the campus IT help desk. While some faculty are excited about the opportunity to try out new tools, the more technophobic or time-pressed among them feel overwhelmed by the huge variety of new media available to them; they don't know where to begin in selecting tools.

As a teaching consultant for my university, my fear is that faculty will be sucked unwittingly into the maw of Charybdis without realizing the limitations and liabilities of such a system. They'll put technology before pedagogy simply because someone has told them they must use the system. Instead, I want to encourage faculty to try new tools outside the CMS--but I don't want to become their tech support guru simply by virtue of being the one who recommended, say, WordPress to them.

It's not a coincidence that I've chosen Odysseus's harrowing trial by hydra and vortex as my metaphor for technological adoption at the university. Both the myth and the technology have a lot to do with fear. Fear on the part of technological and pedagogical support staff of not being able to adequately support faculty. Fear, felt by both IT staff and faculty, of fragmentation, of systems not talking to one another, or of a course's "required" content falling in the cracks between technologies. Fear of letting students create and share more of a course's content--and thereby set the tenor of the course--than ever before. Fear felt by faculty that their course content will be monitored if they place everything into the CMS. From students and faculty, we also get fear in the form of impostor syndrome: everyone is going to learn that I'm an idiot, that I can't figure out the technology, or I'll post something stupid that everyone will find laughable, and I won't be able to fix it.

This list of anxieties suggests that the technophobia floating on the surface of these concerns is a proxy for deeper pedagogical and administrative fears. Identifying those actual fears and anxieties should be job #1; only after we have figured out what ails us can we participate in thoughtful teaching and learning. (Professor, heal thyself.)

The academic process, whether it be teaching or learning, asks us to grapple with-- and even requires that we remain a bit anxious about--the unfamiliar and unknown. It's this mixture of curiosity about and commitment to our disciplines' areas of inquiry that drew many of us to academia in the first place. Most of us jump courageously into the research breach, familiarize ourselves with new subjects, and answer unresolved questions and dilemmas.

Finding the technology that best improves our students' ability to learn is a similar process. It requires a good deal of curiosity: in the best case scenario we audition multiple tools. We should be less interested in the technical details of the software and more curious about its pedagogical applications. If you're trying to decide whether to use ARTstor or Flickr to share images for your course, you'll need to consider, for example, issues of copyright, image resolution, and the user community. On the surface, these seem to be technical details, but they're really pedagogical questions: What images can I share online with my student within (or despite) copyright laws? Will my students be uploading original images, collecting existing images, or modifying images? Will we be soliciting comments or other participation from people who aren't members of the course? If so, what kind of access does the public have to this tool? In how much detail will I require my students to study or analyze the images? Will students need to organize the images themselves? Will they need to be able to highlight and comment upon specific parts of the images? Do I want students to socially tag the images? These questions get at the levels and kinds of collaboration and intellectual and creative production in which we want students to engage.

The process of technology selection requires as well the patience and commitment to try out a tool ourselves and then--gasp!--unleash it on our students, who will use platforms and software and systems in ways that aren't entirely under our control. But the best teaching involves relinquishing control in ways that allow your students to take responsibility for their learning, to consider, research, analyze, and discover--in short, to make new and meaningful connections, to synthesize course material with their experiences.

In the end, the question--Scylla or Charybdis--is, of course, a false dichotomy. There are plenty of other choices--not to use technology at all, to use various tools as well as your campus's CMS, to ask your students to present their completed projects using the tools they find most useful within the context of their work. While it's a good idea to consult with pedagogically-oriented IT staff at your institution, you and your students--and not the IT folks--need to make the final decision as to what tools most improve your students' ability to learn.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Paying it Forward with handmade goodness

Today Susan at posted a meme I've been wanting to participate in but felt too busy to commit to. Now that the quarter is over, I'm feeling saner, and so I took Susan up on her offer, and I'm offering goodies to three of readers of this blog.

If you participate as a receiver, you have to make the same offer on your blog, too. Here's the scoop:
I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this Pay It Forward exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.

What do you have to do?
1. Respond here and give your email address so that I can contact you for your address.
2. Place this on your own blog and also send the first 3 people that respond something.
Any takers?

Frozen Peas Friday

Have you heard of the Frozen Pea Fund? It supports breast cancer research through the American Cancer Society. It's easy to make a contribution of any size, and you're invited to show your support by creating a "peavatar." Here's mine:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lucas and Mr. Trillwing: a conversation

A typical conversation with Lucas, featuring every toddler's favorite word.

(As you can see, Lucas is beginning--finally!--to feel better.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Why I love the Nature Conservancy--and why you should support their work

Anza Borrego desert lands, which the Nature Conservancy has helped to protect. (Photo by Bill Gracey, and used under a Creative Commons license.)

If you look at the right-hand column of The Clutter Museum site, you'll see a nifty new charity badge. I'm raising money for the Nature Conservancy as part of America's Giving Challenge. My goal is to raise $500 by January 31, when the challenge ends. Would you like to join me in supporting The Nature Conservancy? It's my favorite environmental organization--it does amazing work.

Haven't heard of The Nature Conservancy? Here's a bit about them from their site:
The Nature Conservancy's mission is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

Our Approach

We have developed a strategic, science-based planning process, called Conservation by Design, which helps us identify the highest-priority places—landscapes and seascapes that, if conserved, promise to ensure biodiversity over the long term.

In other words, Conservation by Design allows us to achieve meaningful, lasting conservation results.

Worldwide, there will be thousands of these precious places. Taken together, they form something extraordinary: a vision of conservation success and a roadmap for getting there—the Conservation Blueprint. Simply put, by protecting and managing these Last Great Places over the long term, we can secure the future of the natural world.
Here's an image from one of the Nature Conservancy's success stories, Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California:

(Spanish shawl photo by Ed Bierman, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Changes in the environment are particularly grim in places we tend to overlook in favor of more celebrated or dramatic landscapes:
Are We Losing Our Lands?
The world is losing key terrestrial habitats, but not the ones you might think. In tropical rain forests, for example, land conversion exceeds habitat protection by a ratio of 2 to 1. We have protected only one acre of land for every two we have lost. That's worrisome.

But in Mediterranean habitats — dry scrublands such as those found around the Mediterranean Sea, along the central and southern coasts of California, and around the tip of South Africa — the disparity is 8 to 1. We have protected only one acre of land for every eight we have lost.

And in temperate grasslands — places like the Great Plains of the United States and the Argentine pampas — we have protected only one acre for every 10 we've lost. Half of such crisis ecoregions — those habitats classified as critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable — receive little or no conservation attention.

Are We Losing Our Waters?
The world's underwater habitats are suffering astonishing losses. Although scientists can't say precisely what percentage of each freshwater and marine habitat has been converted, the overall trends are unmistakable.

More than half of the world's 292 major river systems have been substantially fragmented by dams, but few rivers receive any protective management. Nearly half of the world's coastal mangrove forests have been destroyed, and once-extensive shellfish beds in temperate estuaries are all but gone. Yet less than 2 percent of the world's coastal waters, where these habitats occur, have been afforded protection.
As we all know, things are looking grim for the global environment, and The Nature Conservancy is at the forefront of trying to preserve and remediate key habitats. I urge you to give what you can. (Hey, it's tax-deductible, at least in the U.S.)

Lioness in the Serengeti , which the Nature Conservancy is helping to conserve. (Photo by James Farris, and used under a Creative Commons license.)

I very much appreciate your assistance in reaching this goal. Simply click "donate" in the charity badge in the right-hand column, which will take you to the Network for Good site to process your donation via credit card or PayPal.

Thank you!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Yuck, and yuck.

Looks like Lucas has contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease from other kids at daycare.

From the CDC website:
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common illness of infants and children. It is characterized by fever, sores in the mouth, and a rash with blisters. HFMD begins with a mild fever, poor appetite, malaise ("feeling sick"), and frequently a sore throat. One or 2 days after the fever begins, painful sores develop in the mouth. They begin as small red spots that blister and then often become ulcers. They are usually located on the tongue, gums, and inside of the cheeks. The skin rash develops over 1 to 2 days with flat or raised red spots, some with blisters. The rash does not itch, and it is usually located on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It may also appear on the buttocks. A person with HFMD may have only the rash or the mouth ulcers.

No sores yet, but a little rash, and definitely a lack of hunger and some low-grade fever. At least now we know why he hasn't been eating. . .

The virus apparently causes symptoms for 7-10 days. Grrrrrr.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Trying to slow down

I've been feeling less in need of the Internet lately, and more in need of paper and art and craft supplies. (OK, and maybe some good TV.)

It speaks to me of a need to slow down, to take better care of myself, my family, my friendships, and my surroundings.

Things I've noticed lately:

1a. Lucas is growing up so fast. I want to spend more time with him. His daycare providers describe him as "so gentle" and "very sensitive." I concur, and I want to help nurture his budding talents as an artist and his interest in music. I don't mean to be a pushy parent, mind you--he's not getting acoustic guitar lessons anytime soon--but I want to sit beside him as his right brain really kicks into gear, as it seems to be doing right now. Mr. Trillwing and I are both prone to depression--and have been since we were kids--so I'd like to see Lucas develop healthy, creative ways to express himself in case he inherits our mental and emotional proclivities.

1b. I need to spend more time with Mr. Trillwing. Even though he telecommutes from home, he works very, very, VERY long hours at a job that doesn't offer him, I think, a whole lot of creative satisfaction, even though it's the kind of job that in theory should offer exactly that kind of satisfaction. We don't get enough time to talk. And we need to talk. We're talkers, or at least we used to be. And we're creative types, and neither of us is finding enough time to create.

2. I like my job. A lot. I really like that I can (mostly) leave it at work. It lets me enjoy myself more at home.

3. #2 means more family time. It also means less dissertation/book revision time.

4. I still want to write, but I'd like to write a novel, as well as pull out the poems from my creative writing degree and revise them into a chapbook or book. But I feel I need to get the other book (the diss revision) out of the way first, so that I can start anew.

5. My desk area at home is a mess. I'm many months behind on filing, and papers are piling up again. I'd feel better if I were organized, and I'd probably be more productive, too. But I'm the one responsible for pretty much all paperwork--financial or otherwise--that passes through our lives, so the paper accrues very quickly.

6. I need to get back into better shape. I'm not feeling healthy. Bleah.

7. It's raining. I've missed the rain, as inconvenient as it can be for someone who's trying to be good about commuting to work on a bicycle.

8. My memory is shot. If I don't write something down, I forget about it--and even then my system of tracking action items isn't leak-proof. It's strange, and I'm not sure if it's because I care less than I used to about the things I'm supposed to be remembering, or if it's because I really am losing the ability to remember things.

9. We're making good progress on paying down the scary credit card debt. It may not be paid down as quickly as I had hoped, but we've reduced it by almost 50%, and by the end of January, we'll probably have reduced it by 70% from what it was in September. Of course, it could come back to bite us when taxes come due, as we're able to pay off this debt because we've each taken on some extra work this fall, not all of which has income taxes withheld.

What's been bothering you lately? What's keeping you from accomplishing what you want to do?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Got Fear 2.0?

If so, and you're in higher ed, we want to hear about it for an upcoming presentation at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference. You can e-mail your anxieties about using Web 2.0 technologies in education directly to me at trillwing at gmail dot com.

In addition, if you find (or author) a relevant blog post or web page, we'd love for you to draw our attention to it by tagging it "eli08fear" in Pages tagged thusly are being aggregated on the "Got Fear?" blog created by the talented Martha Burtis. You should definitely go check out "Got Fear?" for some interesting reading.

Should profs podcast?

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

This afternoon I sat in on a presentation by a vendor that supplies hardware and software that records college and university instructors' lectures. The software produces not only podcasts, but also enhanced podcasts (with slides) and videocasts. The packages the vendor offers come with many bells and whistles, and I was impressed that one of the reps has a Ph.D. in educational technology and offered to help the institution collect and analyze data on any services the university purchased.

At the same time, I've been working with some absolutely brilliant women bloggers on a presentation for the upcoming EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conference. Our presentation abstract states, "Web 2.0 tools have the power to transform education. Such a transformation requires that faculty, students, and institutions take risks. With those risks comes fear, which is often unarticulated. How do you tackle this fear and make real change?"

My current fear and anxiety center around podcasts in higher education. And I'm not sure how to tackle it in ways that effect real change.

Why fear podcasting?

Why should I fear podcasting? After all, podcasts allow students to access lectures when they need them. If they learn best in the late evening, then why shouldn't they be able to watch a lecture after the instructor herself has gone to bed? Studies indicate that the availability of podcasts doesn't affect course attendance--students who would usually skip class still skip. In fact, it may be the most studious class participants who access the podcasts--they can review lecture material and fill in any gaps in their notes. In addition, students who are not fully proficient in the language of instruction can watch or listen to the lectures again to try to better translate sections they didn't understand in class.

As the vendors in today's presentation pointed out, some universities are making their faculty members' lectures available to the public, completely free of charge. One vendor rep talked quite a bit about building a university's brand through publicly accessible podcasts. Indeed, in the case of land grant universities, the institutions have a mandate to perform outreach to the public, and podcasts are a relatively inexpensive way to do so.

Plus, asking professors to videocast their lectures can make them better teachers. After all, the university teaching resources center where I work offers to videotape faculty in the classroom; we then sit down with each instructor to watch the videotape and consult with her about her teaching. If faculty watched their own videocasts, they could learn a lot about their own lecture style and presentation skills.

Today's college students, the vendors told us, have brains wired differently from ours. Specifically, they apparently don't have the attention span or discipline required to read books. And because they're always multitasking--even during lecture--it makes sense to provide them with a podcast they can review later to catch any details they missed while text messaging one another during class.

Plus, how much would I love to listen to podcasts of faculty at my own alma mater? I learned a lot there, and podcasts would not only help me learn, but also keep me connected to the institution--a bonus for the folks in alumni relations and development when they make their perennial appeals to me to contribute to the annual fund.

Podcasts don't address students' shortcomings as independent learners

Despite all these potential advantages to pod- and videocasting, I'm hesitant to advocate for these technologies in the classroom. I fear they will do more harm than good and will allow universities to cut corners in educating students.

First, I'm sick of hearing about "wired" students. They love cell phones and iPods and sometimes social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, and yes, they always seem to be plugged in to some device or another. But they're not really tech savvy in ways that help them better understand the world in the ways undergraduates should. Most of my students--even seniors at my well-ranked research university--don't know how to use the library's vast electronic databases to undertake research. Nor do they understand how to even begin to search for information. Take, for example, the case of a graduate student in (let's say, for the sake of anonymity) gardening studies at a private university where I teach a seminar in gardening history. She was writing a paper on tulips, and yet into the library's search engine she typed "gardens." The entire library specializes in gardens, but it never occurred to her, until I pointed it out, that she might search for "tulips." Many of the other students in the seminar had similar difficulties undertaking research, and this is in what might be the nation's top "gardening studies" program.

Many U.S. university students also have difficulty assessing the authority of a web site; they have frequently cited to me something they learned in junior high school--that if a website's URL ends in .gov or .edu, then it's trustworthy. Um, yeah. I showed them government web sites that reflected the Bush administration's stance on sexual health. It takes a lot of hand-holding to get them to learn to analyze and evaluate sources.

And when, at a professor's request, I go into classrooms to interview undergraduate students about their course, students will say things like, "I wish he would stop asking us questions to which he already knows the answer. Just tell us the information. Just tell us the facts."

In other words: Don't make us do the readings. Don't make us think independently or critically.

Why podcasting is problematic

Which is where my beef with podcasting comes in.

Because most lecture rooms aren't wired with additional microphones for students, it's only the professor's contribution to the class that gets recorded. So even if the professor does try to engage the students with questions or small-group activities, the students' contributions to discussion usually won't be captured. And thus if a professor is going to record lectures "successfully"--meaning produce a video or audio recording with decent production values--he or she needs to stand within the view of the camera (some of the more expensive of which, admittedly, have motion detectors that can follow the professor) and lecture the entire time.

Very few students learn well from lectures alone, though unfortunately many students believe they learn well from lectures because they see themselves as vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. At universities such as mine, this "knowledge" comprises the information required to perform well on a multiple-choice test or, more rarely, a paper--and in these students' view, hopefully one that doesn't require too much research outside of class.

By promoting podcasting and videocasting by providing easy-to-use services to professors, we're further reinforcing the idea that lecturing should be the default method of instructional delivery. And since the videocasting program offered by this vendor offers screen captures as well, the system also reinforces the too-frequently heinous use of PowerPoint by faculty who don't understand the cognitive style of PowerPoint.

Even worse: According to one vendor rep, some schools find it too inconvenient to establish an "opt-in" system for faculty who wish to have their lectures recorded, so they record everything that happens in the classroom during every class. And some institutions turn the cameras back on the students during exams to discourage cheating. This level of surveillance--of faculty and of students--disturbs me.

As universities take on ever-increasing numbers of students, they run out of classroom space. Accordingly, classes meet less frequently, and previously-recorded videocasts are being offered as an option to replace the missing class meetings. One student in the vendor's promotional video said that he likes the videocasts because "they're interactive." But they're not, except that the student can rewind or fast-forward through them.

Suggestions for videocasting and podcasting

Despite my reservations about the ways these technologies are being deployed in the classroom, it's clear they are, like course management systems, going to stick around for a while. So I have some suggestions for vendors.

First, if you're going to emphasize "social networking" sites in describing the mentality and learning styles of students today, then please actually include some social aspects in your platform. Allow students to tag video and audio and to search tags across videocasts at their university. If my professor's explanation of iambic pentameter doesn't make sense to me, I'd like to easily find videos of other profs explaining the same concept. If students in those other classes can tag or label their professors' videos by chapter, then I could easily search for other recorded explanations of Shakespeare's favorite meter.

Second, allow faculty and students to easily sample and/or mash up videos from a number of different classes. If I know one of my colleagues gives a killer lecture on the 1893 World's Fair, I want to be able to pull out his five-minute discussion of the enormous Ferris wheel and how its popularity reflects Americans' changing views of technology at the end of the nineteenth century. I could assign a viewing of his explanation as homework, to be completed alongside more traditional academic readings on the Fair. There--I've saved myself probably 10 minutes of stumbling through a Ferris wheel lecture, as well as a couple hours of research for lecture prep--and more importantly, I've gained 10 minutes of quality time with my students, time that I can spend interacting with them instead of talking at them.

Third, let me capture that quality time. Make it easy for me to record students who report back to the class after small-group discussion, without making them come to the front of the class, where they might feel alienated from their group and therefore intimidated.

Fourth, integrate into your platform technologies similar to that used by Voicethread so that students can add their own questions or commentary to lectures, either as audio or as text. Then encourage faculty users of your technology to respond to their newly annotated lectures. In other words, make your software truly interactive and social.

Fifth, work with my institution to come to an agreement that treats my lectures and course activities as my intellectual property and that lets me release the course session recordings under a Creative Commons license. As an adjunct, the last thing I need is to be recorded out of a job when the administration decides that it can reconstitute my course using only my syllabus and videocast lectures, using a low-paid T.A. to issue grades.

Your thoughts?

What do you think of podcasting in education? What are its advantages and liabilities?