Saturday, December 20, 2008

The academic caste system in an age of budget cuts

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

At the university, whose work is more valuable--a professor's or an administrative assistant's? In a time of budget cuts, should the professor--who might make vastly more than the administrative assistant--be expected to sacrifice proportionately, or should academics be immune from the slings and arrows of budgetary fortune? These and other issues have been raised these past few weeks during a wide-ranging discussion in the academic blogosphere.

Along with auto makers and financial firms and everyone else, many, if not most, U.S. colleges and universities are hurting. My own institution announced no staff would be getting raises this year, the office of the university president proposed a 23 percent workforce reduction in its own staff of 1,749 and has taken a budget cut of $60 million, and the university system will likely curb enrollments of first-year students.

At many universities, everyone--from Provosts who have been protecting their favorite programs to mailroom staff--has been asked to make sacrifices. Many in the academic blogosphere are saying the distribution of cuts is not exactly fair. Dean Dad summarizes the first part of this conversation, two posts by Tenured Radical and Dr. Crazy:

To oversimplify, TR's position is basically that colleges are communities, and that the members of a community need to share sacrifices in tough times. The idea is that if the community gets a clear sense that the local leadership has a reasonable plan, is sticking to it, is sharing it, is soliciting and listening to input, and isn't pulling any fast ones, then it's fair to include some shared sacrifice in that plan. (Admittedly, that's a long chain of 'ifs,' many of which won't be met in very many cases.) In the case TR outlines, it's reasonable for faculty to accept a pay freeze for a year, given that others are accepting it, too, and that the freeze prevents layoffs. Underlying this perspective, I think, is a nuanced sense of reciprocity as a common obligation. If a single group is singled out for sacrifice, then by all means, resist. But if everybody gives up something, then even a card-carrying lefty could sign on without selling out.

Dr. C's position is less idealistic. She argues that professors are workers, and that workers are entitled to fight for the best deals they can get. She suggests that paeans to 'community' are belied by the weight of her workload, and that given what she already does for her salary, she already (effectively) gave at the office. She seems to suspect that all this 'shared sacrifice' stuff is a sort of surrender by faculty, who are essentially being played for chumps.

Dean Dad puzzles through the difference between being tenured and being unionized, and opines that it's not fair for faculty to be both tenured and unionized. The benefits of tenure--owning a job for your professional lifetime--come in exchange for institutional stewardship responsibilities, which includes institutional sacrifice. Unionization, on the other hand, is more clearly a labor-management situation, where the laborers (Dean Dad refers specifically to adjunct faculty here) can be expected to protect their own self-interest over that of the institution because it's likely the institution has in the past not protected this class of faculty and staff.

Dr. Crazy frames her perspective more in terms of being asked to give more and more--in terms of labor, salary cuts, and cuts to her budget. She writes,

I get really angry when it comes to all of the above. The bottom line is that I work at this place, and every such request that faculty "do their part" makes me feel like my work isn't valued - like I'm not already doing my part by teaching in fucked up classrooms without the equipment that I need, quietly accepting that I have an office with no heat and that's 400 miles away from the printer, teaching four freaking maxed out classes a semester, etc. I feel like people have their hands in my pockets and like they're taking money that is mine and that I earned. And while I get the fact that a university is a special kind of place, blah blah blah, I kind of want to tell everybody that they can fuck off and that I don't make enough on a humanities salary, no matter how giving a heart I possess (and really, I don't possess one of those, but for the sake of argument), to keep a university in the black. Shit, I'm not in the black just in terms of my personal finances. And yet, because of all of the PR surrounding this shit, I feel guilty when I don't give. You know what? Screw it. No more guilt. I'll feel guilty when my student loans are paid off. Until that time, they'll just have to be happy that I do my freaking job.

In another post, she rebuts Dean Dad's implication that tenured faculty should be asked to sacrifice equally across the disciplines and ranks:

Yes, compared with our administrative assistants, or the janitorial staff, I hold a position of privilege. Compared with adjuncts and full-timers not on the tenure track, I hold a position of privilege. But if we compare me to my peers across institutions or even across disciplines within my own institution, I would not characterize my position as one of privilege. I am in a field that bears the brunt of some of the most labor-intensive portions of the general education curriculum; I am in field that has historically been one of the lowest paid; I am in a field where job mobility is about zero once one hits the associate level, and where it's not much better even at the assistant level for all but lateral moves; I am at the lowest funded university in my state, a state with notorious budget problems, and that disparity will likely not be rectified in my lifetime; at the same time, my university's enrollment is rapidly growing and there is an expectation that it will continue to grow by leaps and bounds even without adequate state support for that growth.... I could go on, but I think the gist of what I'm saying here is clear. My job, although I really do enjoy it most days and while I am pleased to be working in the field in which I trained, is not a plum gig.

Amen. I was recently in a meeting on the status of women on my campus, and one of the scientists expressed the belief that it's possible to undertake humanities scholarship and teaching without a budget, whereas her research required real money. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, and it chaps my hide when scientists brush off the costs of my research--for which I travel enough to sometimes need temporary housing instead of just a motel room--as incidental. Humanities folks do draw the short straw, in terms of budget and prestige, at many large research institutions.

That said, Tenured Radical reminds us that tenure-track faculty (yes, even in the humanities) have plenty to be grateful for. She provides an excellent list of questions about faculty privilege during tough budgetary times, and concludes with this reflection:

The strangest thing I have heard -- and I have heard it from more than one person -- is the narrative of sacrifice, in which a faculty member claims to have chosen university teaching when other, far more lucrative work was possible, but in an act of self-abnegation chose to teach the unwashed masses who seem to cluster regularly at private colleges and universities. Having made this sacrifice, the story goes, no others should be required: nay, this person should receive raises while others near and far, working class and middle class people working in soulless occupations, lose their jobs.

While it is not required of us to be grateful for having jobs as unemployment gallops to new highs, it is worth remembering that life isn't fair. When we are not being rewarded with cash prizes for our accomplishments, it might be a good time to figure out if there are personal rewards other than money that cause you to stay committed to teaching and the production of knowledge. If there are not, I strongly suggest you use the safety of your tenured position to explore another line of work that would make you happy.

If not, my advice is this. Gratitude for your job security isn't required, but it might be seemly. And since this doesn't seem to be widely known, let me just say: being a university teacher is not the moral equivalent of being a priest, a social worker, a member of the Peace Corps, a safe-sex worker or a community activist, in which you have traded affluence to serve others. If you think that is the entire reason why you chose to teach and write you are, frankly, delusional, and suffer from profound status anxiety.

Historiann points out that it's not fair to only ask teaching faculty to make cuts, and she provides an excellent illustration of the ways that faculty spend money throughout the day and year:

Can you feel the excellence, my darlings? Let's see if the copier company will be happy to to fix our copier--for no money! How about serving up lunch in the student center to us--for no money! Maybe Shell Oil will donate gasoline for staff and faculty vehicles so that we can get to campus--for no money! I wonder if banks and landlords will forgive mortgages and rents for everyone employed in higher education, so that we can house ourselves for no money! This no money thing could work, just so long as it's not just people in higher education who are doing it for no money!

In a comment on another post by Historiann, Ann Bartow provides a list of the dozen ways she as a faculty member is asked to donate monetarily to the university community. "The requests are relentless and sometimes obnoxious," she writes, "and no one seems to care how many different times we get asked for money."

Geeky Mom comes at the issue of faculty-staff equity from the perspective of someone who has been both adjunct faculty and full-time staff:

On the staff side, when things get tough, the situation is even grimmer (and perhaps this applies to contingent faculty as well, but my experence is the order of layoffs is staff, part-time contingent faculty, full-time contingent faculty). Dr. Crazy acknowledges that she's in a position of privilege as a faculty member. The janitor, whose job gets outsourced, not so much. As Dr. Crazy said, someone earlier in their career hurts more when the raise doesn't come. For many staff, the lack of a raise is the difference between being able to commute to work or not or between paying the heating bill or not. Most staff (and I'm guessing faculty too) have seen their real incomes decline over the years. I experienced a downturn in my first 6 months on the job. I got no raise the first year and only a paltry one the second. The 3 years after that were fine, but still, overall, I saw my salary decline. Add into that that faculty have the opportunity for merit raises--a sizable one when getting promoted to associate or full and yearly ones based on teaching, research and service accomplishments--while staff do not and you end up with some real inequalities that cause some serious pain during hard economic times.

I'm not putting forth this information to say to faculty, you don't know how good you have it, but to say that I think staff, too, should not take on more sacrifice. Too many of them do. They look at themselves as part of a family or team or whatever and put in extra hours without pay or offer to donate to the college(!) or suck it up when they go without raises for a couple of years.

Amen again. I, too, have served--continue to serve--as both adjunct faculty and staff, and in my experience neither category of employment gets the respect it deserves from the university. Whether it means teaching the classes that tenure-track faculty either don't want to teach or (let's be honest) don't have the instructional chops to teach well (such as courses with very large enrollments), assisting students with finding options to study abroad, or tracking grants for faculty, adjuncts and staff tend to be the first to suffer from budget and staff cuts.

Roxie wonders why there hasn't been a bailout proposed for the nation's educational institutions:

Folks, we're real sorry to hear that the bailout for the auto industry has apparently fallen apart, but have you noticed that no one is even talking about a bailout for higher education? For years, public institutions like Queer the Turtle U have been stuck between the rock and the hard place of declining levels of state support and mounting pressure to keep tuition affordable. Caught in that vise, schools have fought to do more with less while scrambling to catch up to private institutions in the game of fundraising. That strategy worked reasonably well when times were good and the bubbles in stocks or real estate had a lot people feeling rich. Now? The party's over, public and private revenues have dried up, and schools are desperately trying to figure out how to cut costs without compromising the value of their brand (the ne plus ultra of higher ed under the consumer model).

An excellent question. After all, universities make serious contributions to local, state, and national economies that can be measured in a variety of ways, and they provide as well less tangible benefits such as reduced crime rates in many communities near universities, improved health of individuals in that community, and increased civic engagement.

Be sure to check out all the posts I linked to here, as there is some terrific discussion going on in the comments.

What are your thoughts? Would you support a bailout package for failing institutions of higher education? And do you think the public would look differently at "state-funded" universities if they knew how small a percentage of the overall budget of some of these universities actually comes from the state rather than from private sources?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How can we predict K-12 teacher effectiveness?

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

In the U.S., public educational systems select teacher candidates based on test scores, credentials, and university degrees. But those, says Malcolm Gladwell in a recent New Yorker article, are not good predictors of teacher success. In fact, he writes, there may be no good predictors at all.

Gladwell frames his argument with stories about how two other industries, the National Football League and elite financial advising companies, recruit their professionals. He points out that there may be absolutely no way to tell if a college quarterback will succeed in the NFL--short of letting him play quarterback for an NFL team--because playing college ball barely resembles playing for the NFL. Only time in the league will demonstrate whether a quarterback will succeed.

Gladwell argues that selecting teachers is similarly difficult, that there appears to be little connection between formal teacher preparation regimes (e.g. teaching credential programs, Master's of Education degrees) and the ability to reach all learners in a classroom.

Gladwell says one solution is to change the way teachers are recruited, and he recommends a model embraced by financial advising firm North Star Resource Group. For every thousand people recruiters from North Star interview, they find fewer than 50 they think might succeed. These semifinalists attend a four-month, intensive training camp. Fewer than half of those who were invited to the training camp were then hired as apprentice advisers. Three to four years later, North Star retains 30 to 40 percent of those hired as apprentices.

This model goes against the typical teacher recruitment proceedings, which require little beyond a college degree, a teaching credential, and a passing score on one or more state-mandated teacher certification tests. As Dave Saba points out, "most state teacher tests have pass rates over 95%" and schools of education don't exactly have the reputation of being the most rigorous of our nation's professional training grounds. And Will Wilkinson is wondering why teachers even need college degrees.

Gladwell writes that there is a characteristic that the best teachers demonstrate, what he terms "withitness": the ability to understand and respond to classroom dynamics while still promoting a learning agenda. Teachers who have "withitness" know almost intuitively, in Gladwell's examples, when to let young kids squirm (because it may actually be a marker of learning) and how to shut down student-generated distractions before they snowball and affect the entire class.

The education blogosphere has been broad and mostly supportive of Gladwell's analysis, although there are a few points with which some bloggers take umbrage. For example, Laura Vanderkam presents some interesting data on teachers and standardized tests:

other things being equal, a teacher who scores a 700 on the SAT math section is going to be a more effective teacher than one who scores a 500. The higher score tends to indicate that the teacher is better able to figure things out quickly. This ability to solve problems quickly is a key component of the "withitness" that Gladwell notes is a common attribute with good teachers.

Christopher Sessums wonders how we would fund Gladwell's model of teacher selection:

While I have regularly enjoyed Gladwell's contributions, he seems to gloss over the overall costs associated with his plan. Training all comers will cost more money than the system has. Even if we switched to an apprentice-based pay scale (i.e., paying apprentices a smaller salary while compensating top-tier educators appropriately), finding the money to do so will more than likely outstrip our current salary systems. This is not to say such systems could not be constructed. Instead, I am suggesting further studies need to be considered before we can realistically consider such a move.

Greg Anrig has similar concerns, and offers an alternative model of teacher training:

[T]here are only a few dozen professional quarterbacking jobs in contrast to some 7 million public school teachers, with significant shortages in many cities and subjects. Whatever your position on the appropriate credentialing of teachers, most urban school administrators don't have the luxury of selecting 25 percent of applicants after some sort of closely monitored trial period.

Much more germane to the teaching profession is developing a far more effective, teamwork approach so that instead of relying entirely on the talents of individual teachers to instruct their students in isolation, they can learn from each other on an ongoing basis how to better connect with their students.

J M Holland highlights the differences in salary incentives between football and education. In football, players tend to get paid better when they perform well; the same isn't true for teachers in public schools:

Teaching isn't hierarchical in its demands and schools are not organized so that the same type of practice is needed to be successful in each. The truth of the situation is that in some schools you can teach like a high school quarterback and be fine and in others you have to teach like professional quarterback to be successful. The real difference is that you get paid better in professional football if you are successful whereas in teaching the high school quarterbacks and the professional quarterbacks all get paid the same.

The History Enthusiast believes teachers need to have more than, in Gladwell's words, "a pulse and a college degree":

I did, however, take issue with one statement in particular: "They [reports, new evidence, etc.] suggest that we shouldn’t be raising standards. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree—and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before."

My problem with this is really with the implication here (and elsewhere) that "book smarts" don't really matter in this equation. Now, I'm not saying that every person with book smarts is automatically a good teacher. I'm simply saying that when you consider subjects taught in high school, for instance, teachers should be expected to be book smart. That seems fair to me.

For instance, I have a few education majors in my courses (which fulfills a requirement) who are barely passing. They do not understand basic historical facts. They write at a very basic level with significant grammatical problems. They may end up becoming fabulous teachers who've mastered all the pertinent pedagogical techniques and who can really relate to students. I don't know. But, shouldn't they also be expected to really understand their subject matter? If they are relatively uninformed when it comes to basic historical concepts, shouldn't we find that troublesome? And more importantly, shouldn't ALL teachers be able to write well (i.e. coherently and without noticeable errors)?

Eduwonkette takes Gladwell to task for not looking at the larger contexts in which teachers learn their trade and children learn about the world:

It was surprising to see Gladwell focus so heavily on the potential of the individual player or teacher, given that he just penned a book about the importance of social contexts and chance in producing human greatness. As he put it, "The tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured."

So where's the "forest" for a quarterback or teacher? It's a team. Or a school. Even the most gifted quarterbacks end up with pretty crappy pass completion stats if their teammates consistently miss the ball. And a great quarterback doesn't look so great if he's a poor fit for the team he's playing with. The same goes for teachers. So my fingers are crossed that the Gladwell who recognizes the importance of the environments - not just individuals - wins this match.

My primary problem with the Gladwell article is that he uses standardized test scores as the measure of the "value added" by the teacher. He says, for example, that teacher quality can be objectively measured by the class's aggregated improvement on standardized test scores during the year. Therefore, a teacher who pushes her students to perform at the seventieth instead of the fiftieth percentile on a national standardized test is a better teacher than one who only advances his students ten percentile points.

Both as someone who is a lousy test taker and as an instructor now seeing the effects on college students of the high-stakes testing regimen ushered in by No Child Left Behind, I take issue with the use of standardized tests as measures of learning. Increasingly, teachers "teach to the test," and the result is a focus on content absorption and regurgitation rather than on developing the skills people need to succeed in college and in life: interpretation, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, to name a few. If standardized tests consistently measured students' ability in these skill sets, then I might find them to be better measures of teacher effectiveness.

Want to learn more? Check out Addofio's thoughtful overview of teacher effectiveness research.

What are your thoughts on teacher effectiveness?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8: The Musical

Chances are you'll recognize many actors in this performance:

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

(h/t Professor Kim)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Amen. That's all I have to say about this commentary by Campbell Brown on Ed Rendell's comments about Janet Napolitano's fitness for her new job as secretary of homeland security.

Video not working? You can also view it on CNN's website.

(h/t to Erin Kotecki Vest)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taking stock: where I am, where I've been, where I'm going

As my post on being a pissed-off woman in academia demonstrated, my job may in the next few months take a turn I hadn't anticipated into cubicle land and consolidation of units. Along with cubicles and consolidation comes, I fear, surveillance of how my colleagues and I spend our time, our work habits, our efficiencies and inefficiencies. Since my work habits and sensibilities tend to be more aligned with those of faculty than staff, but since I am technically a staff person, there may be some rocky shoals ahead.

Of course, this makes me wonder: Why am I not teaching full-time instead of being an administrative type?

The simple answer: Money. This job has more stability than any adjuncting gig, and the salary is far better, too. And I do enjoy much of my job.

But late last year we lost an unfilled staff position due to budget cuts, so increasingly my job has become less about thinking and consulting about teaching and more about taking care of the thousand little details that attend programs, events, grantmaking, and committee work. In addition, as I've expressed before, I feel complicit in what I have increasingly come to see as the factory farming of students. What else can I call it when there are classes of 900 students? I have no plans to leave my job anytime soon--again, I enjoy most of it, my colleagues in particular--but I can't help but think about what my next steps might be, a year or two or three from now, depending on how much control I can retain over my job duties and my time.

A number of events have conspired this autumn to show me that I may eventually find myself in a situation where I'm more of a free agent. Herein I explore some of the possibilities--both to set it clear in my own mind, but also to open a conversation with those of you who are finding your way in and out of, or along the edges of, academic and intellectual life. I'd like to hear what paths you are taking, and what advice you might have to offer me and others in similar positions.

At this moment, my ideal life would look like a mix of writing, art/illustration, teaching museum studies and American studies, consulting with museums, consulting about teaching in higher ed, and working at intersections of public institutions (museums, universities) and communities. I'd also be able to spend more time with Lucas and Mr. Trillwing. I'm definitely what Marci Alboher would call a "slash": a writer/artist/consultant/teacher/quasi-intellectual.

Perhaps the most inspiring moments of the fall came when I joined Barbara Sawhill, Laura Blankenship, and Barbara Ganley at BG's amazing home to talk about some common interests around teaching and learning, community development, and storytelling.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again a hundred times: I want to be Barbara Ganley when I grow up.

Barbara Ganley

The "Fear 2.0 Dream Team": Laura Blankenship, Barbara Sawhill (in background), Barbara Ganley. Much missed at the gathering: Martha Burtis. Much appreciated: Laura's pomegranate martini recipe.

Barbara Ganley and Finn-dog

Dinner conversation: Laura Blankenship, Barbara Ganley, and visiting from his mountaintop, Bryan Alexander.

I've already blogged a bit about our retreat, so I'll summarize by saying that I'm tremendously inspired by BG's and Laura's recent leaps from academia, and Martha's decision to work part-time on projects rather than remain an administrator. These women are further along in their careers than I am, but watching them gives me hope that I, too, can craft a work-life balance that I find meaningful, that balances the creative and the critical impulses of the mind. In addition, I'm totally jazzed about BG's community storytelling projects around the country and hope to participate in them in some capacity.

BG's home is in itself a fabulous metaphor and also a collection of slashes. Without compromising too much of her private life, here are a few glimpses:

The entire house is built from green and salvaged materials. Her chandelier is something out of Jules Verne, and is made of recycled plumbing fixtures. I didn't get to see this feature in operation, but the fixture belches colorful steam at a signal from a remote.

The front door is also an assemblage of reused materials, and has been inscribed by her menagerie of dog and cats. But most interesting to me is the door in profile:

It appears to be three doors combined into one, all of which lead to the same place--a site picked by Barbara's family when they sited the house on the property. I like this metaphor of constructing one's own door and deciding onto what place it opens. It's much more appealing to me than the usual metaphor of selecting one door from among the many presented to me.

Barbara and her family have set out a pair of urns to mark a trailhead near the house. Again, I like the idea of defining one's own starting point, of mowing one's own trail.

I also still enjoy my position teaching graduate museum studies students. Museum studies is such a fertile field, and I very much enjoy playing and working in it. All my musings about slash careers aside, I would be delighted to teach in this program full-time. It's just all-around awesome, even though this quarter marked the first time I felt I didn't fully connect with a class of students. In the winter and spring quarters, I'm overseeing the master's theses of 14 (!) students. We'll meet as a group every other week for three hours, during which time I'll be leading them step-by-step through the process of writing their theses. Thankfully, the program director has already helped them select their topics and methodologies. I'm very much looking forward to reading these theses, as most of the students are among those I taught last year, and I adore that cohort of students. (I think the affection is to some extent mutual.) Plus, it sounds as if I'll be meeting a few new-to-me students, one of whom is a (woman) taxidermist. Awesome.

Exhibit in the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History - mammal hall. Have I ever mentioned I have a preoccupation with taxidermy?

Taxidermied birds--where else?--in Barbara Ganley's home

I'm also trying to be an even better citizen of my university by serving on a committee that serves as a watchdog over the status of women (faculty, staff, and students) on campus. I attended my first meeting a couple of weeks ago, and the ideas I put forth were accepted with great excitement by many on the committee. It was odd to be a newcomer and yet suddenly in the middle of all this hustle and bustle on a committee that seemed, if I'm reading the situation correctly, to be looking for a cause or two to champion. Yes, it's one more thing on my plate, but it's an important thing.

On the back burner for the time being is a big project--a series of projects, really--related to multicultural education and targeted at progressive parents of youngish children. It's more entrepreneurial than any of my other pursuits, and in this economy I should probably move it to the front burner, but I don't have the energy at this moment. Still, the older Lucas gets and the more I learn about No Child Left Behind, the more I realize the importance of this endeavor.

Motherhood continues to amaze me.
I think being a full-time stay-at-home mom would drive me bonkers, and it wouldn't do much for Lucas's development right now. He's learning to be social, and it helps for him to be in a daycare/preschool environment. That said, I'd love to spend even more time with him during the daylight hours. I'll post more photos of him soon. He's crazy tall and his vocabulary is growing faster than his bones. Plus he has a wicked sense of humor. Wonder where he gets that? These photos are from a trip we took with my parents to a riparian reserve. They're kind of bird nerds and wanted to see some sandhill cranes (in the interest of full disclosure, so did I).

Where does all this lead? I don't yet know, but I sense it's someplace good--if I can make the financial picture work. Another spanner in the works is that Mr. Trillwing is in the newspaper industry, which, in case you haven't noticed, is on death watch, so we're trying to rethink his career as well.

Most of all, I'm learning to put myself out there, which does not come naturally to me. I'm redrawing the boundaries of what I'm comfortable doing. I'm unlearning the many ways that women (in academia and in professional life in general) sabotage themselves. I'm trying to balance reflexivity and research with action. I'm trying to clear the decks of old projects so that I can focus on new ones. I'm trying to become the person who believes wholeheartedly in her life's work. And that's not easy. I'm planting seeds, but sometimes I'm surprised by what grows.

P.S. Don't miss Fang's post on our Thanksgiving adventures. Here's a bit he didn't cover--a young bobcat (there were three of them) playing a few yards outside our hotel room in Tucson:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

5 things teachers could learn from the slow blogging movement

(Cross-posted from BlogHer)

This week The New York Times featured the slow blogging movement in an article that profiled my friend and colleague Barbara Ganley. I was glad to see Barbara featured by the venerable paper, but the piece was short and didn't make the best use of Ganley or the other bloggers it cited. Here's a big part of what it missed: Slow blogging isn't just about lifestyle (the article was in the Fashion and Style section). It's about learning.

I've put together a list of things teachers and professors could learn about teaching by taking a virtual page from slow blogging. (And yes, I realize the list as a genre is more typical of quick blogging than slow blogging.)

1. Slow blogging privileges learning that is expressive rather than regurgitated.

Todd Sieling writes in his Slow Blogging Manifesto,

Slow Blogging is the re-establishment of the machine as the agent of human expression, rather than its whip and container.

Slow blogging provides evidence of sustained thought in the form of words frequently accompanied by carefully selected images. In an age of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests graded by machines, slow blogging provides an antidote to retrograde educational initiatives like No Child Left Behind.

2. Slow blogging promotes reflection and conversation.

The best classrooms allow learners to help determine the content and nature of their learning experiences. As Ganley wrote in the post where she first articulated the term "slow blogging,"

So, what am I saying here? I guess I’m moving more and more to ways in which blogging and tagging and image-sharing and digital storytelling enhance the here-and-now, the communities in which we live and work, and in this particular case, the classes we teach. And to do that, it is essential to spend time at the opening of the semester talking about who we are, what we each bring to the learning adventure, why we’re in this class, and what we hope to get out of it. We talk about building a blueprint together based on our goals and available materials, and then think about how we actually build the course experience together and alone.

Chris Lott elaborates:

Slow blogging is mindful wandering is meditative reflection is an attempt to face the fear, to take a stab at the heart, take responsibility and risk, and in the process create a gift of immense value to others, a manifestation of our particular truth.

Slow blogging is about learning and producing truths, not facts.

3. Slow blogging can work in tandem with more of-the-moment exercises and activities.

Not all learning needs to be documented with evidence of sustained thought. Sometimes blogging and learning take the form of a call to action, as Courtney writes at Feministing. A key tenet of slow blogging, at least as practiced by Ganley, is stepping away from the screen to engage with one's community offline.

4. Slow blogging builds on itself.

Earlier this month, the Oxford University Press blog emphasized this characteristic of slow blogging, contrasting it with newer forms of social media:

Slow blogging also means coming back to the same issue with new information, months or even perhaps years later. It thus calls for a nonlinear interface, less like a journal page or a Facebook wall that flits by and then deposits week-old items into archives. Think about accretive knowledge, where the accretion is slow, sure and steady, not slapdash.

Similarly, the best learning is iterative: It revisits earlier subjects, earlier theses as the learner builds new paradigms. I don't think the best learning is structured like that of, say, a typical biology survey course, where the subject matter moves apparently logically from cells to more complex lifeforms. Nor is it like a U.S. history class where all the content is structured from East to West and by presidential administrations. Yes, it may be necessary to learn the "facts" of history or the basic forms of life before making an argument or proposing a hypothesis, but slow blogging offers an alternative to learning that borrows its logic from mere chronology.

5. Sometimes the best way to learn is to write publicly.

Too many of our students' projects are never seen by anyone but their teachers or perhaps their parents. In certain instances, public accountability--the sharing of one's learning in a forum, be in online, in a classroom writing workshop, or in small groups working on the same project themes--moves learning along much faster than does private, individual study and meditation.

How might you learn from slow blogging in improving your conversations, learning, and reflection online and off?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On being a pissed-off woman in academia (and losing my office)

(Cross-posted to BlogHer)

So the word on the street is that the academic unit that oversees mine and several others would like to consolidate us geographically. Makes sense, yes? Except that the price tag for rehabbing the proposed space (an old science lab in a "temporary" building) is, I'm told, somewhere around $400,000 in a year of dramatic budget cuts. Even scarier? That price tag is for cubicles, not offices. Offices, I hear, would cost $200,000 more.

So yes, I soon may be losing my current office with its lovely closing door. My underground, windowless office--but an office nonetheless. And one that has been mine and mine alone for all of two months, since my graduate student researcher (and friend) sought out greener academic pastures. The other woman holding my same position will also, it appears, be losing her office.

Lest I sound like a total whiner, let me point out that this is the first time in my professional life I have had my very own office. I've done the cubicle thing. I've shared offices. I've held office hours (as a grad student) on a couch in a random academic hallway, in coffee houses, in more places than I care to name, really. And so getting my own office, even knowing that I'd be sharing it for a while with a grad student, was for me a huge perk of my job.

We're told that the converted lab space will have a few offices with doors, but that they're for general use, to be reserved for meetings. I meet with or call faculty regularly about confidential matters. And my productivity has increased at least 200% since I found an office I could call my own, with a closing door.

When I mentioned my concern to someone in the academic unit that oversees mine, she mentioned she herself (she outranks me in the unit's hierarchy) shares an office with two other people, and that they just ignore one another's phone calls.

This is not okay. I understand there is a shortage of space on campus. (I also understand there are science faculty who teach in two or more departments who have two offices and large labs.) I feel I've earned that door. And the university has a complicated formula that determines whether one gets a door, how much office space a person gets, etc. But apparently a Ph.D. who consults with faculty on how to teach, say, a class of 900 students does not merit a door. Nor does someone who meets with her grad students (and, next quarter, undergrads) merit office space. That is cubicle stuff, my friends.

OK, I know I sound a bit like a diva. After all, it's likely the half-time faculty director of our unit will also be sitting in a cubicle--but he has an office elsewhere in the university, as does a male colleague who works in my department 50% of the time. In short, all the men who work with our unit in some capacity will have offices elsewhere. We women folk? Not so much.

I was chatting with my therapist about this yesterday, and she asked if I was angry. I said I didn't really do anger. Then she asked if I was pissed off. I paused a moment and then thought, yes, yes--that's what this feeling is--I'm totally pissed off. Ends up, though, (surprise!) that I'm not alone. Historiann has been writing about and linking to pissed-off academic women. There must be something in the water. Or maybe we're just always being provoked. Let's take a look, shall we?

The History Enthusiast talks about one of those many incidents that may or may not be sexist--until you consider the varying respect given to grad student women and faculty men:

Every year I get a new round of stories to share with people who think I'm making this "sexism" up. Last year my office mate told me about a student that entered my office (which was a 3-person grad office), saw that I was not there, and promptly began to rummage around on my desk. When my office mate asked what he was looking for, he said something to the effect of "[History Enthusiast] gave a handout in class, and she said I should come by and pick one up." Why that entitled this person to have full access to my desk, I don't know. It may not have been sexist, but I doubt they would've felt comfortable doing that if I were a male professor.

Historiann deals with a male student who writes a bit too informally requesting advice. Really, you must read this series of e-mails--and particularly the final one from the student--to believe it.

I have mixed feelings about informality in e-mail and in face-to-face interactions on campus. In a recent employee evaluation, I was called "democratic to the bone," which was once a compliment and a caution about providing sufficient deference to and careful handling of, say, the head of my university at events I put together. I do believe that all of us--students and staff and faculty and presidents--bring something valuable to the table that deserves consideration and respect. That said, I'm tired of asserting my own equality with men on campus, and I'm sick and tired of hearing that other women are experiencing the same thing with alarming regularity.

Dr. Crazy at Reassigned Time provides some perspectives on these kinds of incidents:

The issue, I think, is less about each individual incident than about the many, many such incidents that such accounts as those in the two posts to which I linked represent. When this crap happens over and over again, at a certain point it becomes not just mildly irritating. And when you watch them happening to you, over and over again, while your male colleagues sit happily in their offices without the emails, the interruptions, and the challenges to one's professional status, yeah, it becomes something that pisses a person off.

Now, you might say, "well, all you lady professors are clearly just too sensitive!" This is often the tenor of the challenges that women professors get when they complain about these sorts of things. Our skins aren't thick enough; we take everything to "personally." My first response to such challenges would be that they in themselves express a certain kind of gendering of the woman professor. Because we have vaginas, we must be blowing things out of proportion. Clearly. My second response would be that the challengers, too, would lose their sense of perspective if they experienced this stuff not infrequently, but rather over and over and over again in each and every semester.

Yes, yes, Amen, yes. My office dilemma, taken alone, would already tip the scales for me toward a certain brand of disrespect. But because the cubicle move comes after countless times when I have had to whip out the Ph.D. to confirm my credentials with (mostly male) faculty who call my office about the programs I run, and along with the hundred little "subtle and insidious" (to borrow a term from Dr. Crazy) incidents that I suspect would not plague a man with my credentials, moving into a cubicle becomes a symbol, for me, of the larger place of women in academia--and particularly women in academia who are not on the tenure track and those who walk the line between faculty and staff positions.

What are your thoughts on these incidents? Do you have similar stories to share, inside or outside of academia?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning to converse

The scene: It's getting late for Lucas, a bit past his bedtime tonight. He's been using safety scissors to cut ever-tinier fish from pieces of paper. He is wearing a polo shirt, brown corduroy pants, and a long red cape, and he's been prattling on about cutting and paper and fish. Then, suddenly:

Lucas: I'm tiny.

Me: You're not tiny. You're 3 years old and (gets out the tape measure) 42 inches tall.

Lucas: I'm all over my place.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Found comedy, courtesy of Mr. Trillwing

Treat yourself the whole thing. I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Update: Lucas and Obi

I've been crazy overwhelmed, and I have a dozen blog posts percolating in my head. Tonight I need to catch up on some grading, write a talk I'm giving as a guest lecturer in a class I used to teach, read several articles for my museum studies grad seminar tomorrow, and plan for the museum studies class. And yes, it's 7 p.m. now.

But I have a couple things I need to blog before I forget them. The first is a Lucas update, so helpfully provided this week by Fang. Thanks, Honey!

Also, there was this exchange this morning:

Lucas: I squeezed Daddy.

Me: You squeezed Daddy or you hugged him?

Lucas: I squeezed Daddy.

Me: What's the difference between squeezing and hugging?

Lucas: (already wearing his red cape) That's a job for Supe'man!

The second thing I've been meaning to blog about is the new dog. Obi, he is not so easy to deal with. He's got this crazy puppy chewing thing going on that you really must see to believe. He is getting better about jumping up on people (he does it only about 35% of the amount he used to jump), and we just dropped a wad on some private lessons with a trainer as well as 10 group lessons, so he's learning to sit and lie down. Walking on a leash is a whole 'nother problem, and Obi has some serious territorial issues to work through.

But I had a revelation about him. See, when we told the trainer that he's about 14 months old--that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) told us he was 10 months old when we adopted him--she said the local SPCA tells everyone that any dog under 3 years old is 10 months old. I guess it's a popular age. That's when it dawned on me that Obi is also probably not the mix of breeds that the SPCA claimed him to be. Of course, since Obi was a stray, the SPCA folks couldn't know exactly what breeds he is, so they went with the popular Australian Shepherd x German Shepherd cross. And he does look a little German Shepherdy in that he's black and lanky. But the older he gets, the more he looks like--gulp--a Border Collie.

And since he likes to get soaked, I'm thinking he's a Border Collie x Labrador Retriever cross. A Google images search pretty much confirms this. There are a lot of BC x Lab crosses that look like Obi.

Which means, unfortunately, that we may have a very, very smart dog on our hands. Mr. Trillwing thinks he's dumb as a post, but I suspect Obi is like that kid you knew in high school who seemed a total slacker but then up and earned a perfect score on the SAT. Which means: after several more months of hard work, I suspect we'll have a wonderful dog. But right now. . . not so much.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


When I feel overwhelmed with work--and I definitely am overcommitted right now with responsibilities--it's easy to feel depressed. But sometimes, late at night, when the morning's antidepressant has worn off, I can get downright weepy with slight provocation.

Tonight's weepfest is brought to me by Pete Seeger's latest album, At 89, and more specifically the song "Little Fat Baby." Here are the lyrics:

Someday, you'll be able to walk
Someday, you'll be able to talk
No more diapers, you will wear pants
You'll be able to sing and dance
And then, oh then, oh then, oh then
I'll wish I had that little fat baby
In my arms again

Someday, you're going to be fully grown
Someday, you will be leaving this home
No more clamoring up the stair
No more clothes strewn everywhere
And then, oh then, oh then, oh then
I'll wish I had that tough teenager
In my arms again

Someday, you'll have a child of your own
Someday, you'll know the things that I've known
And grandmother will help you through
As your child grows as all children do
And then, oh then, oh then, oh then
You'll wish you had your little fat baby
In your arms again

Someday, we will be saying so long
Someday, it'll be time for me to move on
No more discussions over a glass of beer
No more generation gaps appear
And then, oh then, oh then, oh then
You'll wish you had your dear sweet papa
In your arms again

Someday, you'll be able to walk
Someday, you'll be able to talk
No more will you poop in your pants
You'll be able to sing and dance
And then, oh then, oh then, oh then
I'll wish I had that little fat baby
In my arms again

If you're a parent, I challenge you to download the song from iTunes and not weep.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I've voted. Have you?

Fang's absentee ballot is sitting on the table, mostly filled out. He always gets after me to get stuff done, so. . .

Friday, October 17, 2008

Confluence, Context, and Community (Part II)

This post is the second in a series. Be sure to check out Part I for more explanation.

After September 11, there was much ado in the media about people not wanting to be out and about in public places and the resulting trend of "nesting" in one's home by outfitting it with greater personal comforts. For many of us, one of these comforts was high-speed internet access, and with our faster browsing speeds, we discovered ever-greater numbers of virtual communities to which we might belong. One danger of this retreat to the Internet is the further withdrawal of individuals from their geographic, place-based communities. Through the establishment of her Centers for Community Digital Exploration (CCDE), Barbara Ganley seeks to use online social media to reinvigorate connections among people in their local communities.

One liability of this project is that it might be tempting to take the simpler route of establishing centers in communities according to a general blueprint, almost on a franchise model, where any outsider trained in the protocols of the CCDE's operations and mission could go into a community, set up camp, and get the ball rolling. In reality, however, every community is different--in terms of cultural diversity, socioeconomic class, and even Internet access--so there is a danger similar to that faced by Glenn Wharton in his restoration of the statue of Kamehameha in the king's hometown and by countless ethnographers: outsiders come in, stir up resentment because they don't understand the community, and then the social experiment fails.

Barbara's approach is different. Already she is negotiating a contract with a foundation interested in community planning. Barbara wants to persuade community members in four geographically diverse, small rural towns to tell stories both face to face and using various digital media. Through talking with them about the stories and through the sharing of these stories throughout the community--and perhaps through the establishment of CCDEs in each community--Barbara will help communities identify their core values and their specific desires for features of their communities. She will, in short, be turning story into action, which is, after all, the goal of so many contemporary museum exhibitions (and particularly science exhibitions that promote better living through, say, the embrace of local foodways, a reduced carbon footprint, or conscientious attention to and eradication of invasive plant species).

There's a lot museums can learn, I think, from Barbara's own conscientiousness about community, from her contemplative slow blogging, and from her fierce independence from models of educational practice that are less than democratic, that constrain individuals and communities, and that always privilege critical over creative thinking.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Confluence, Context, and Community (Part I)

(cross-posted from Museum Blogging)

This past week I experienced one of those wonderful confluences of thought and experience that make me thankful for my tendency to snatch up whatever interesting opportunity that comes along, no matter how overcommitted I already may be. I spent Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon visiting my friend and colleague Barbara Ganley in Vermont, where I was joined by Barbara Sawhill and Laura Blankenship. BG just finished up 19 years teaching writing and literature at Middlebury College, but she's starting a new endeavor: the Centers for Community Digital Expression, and she wanted to bounce some ideas off of us. I spent the weekend gorging myself on Vermont artisanal cheeses, excellent bread (one especially delicious loaf handmade and delivered by Bryan Alexander), and salad greens plucked from Barbara's garden. In short: Good food, excellent company, and terrific conversation. These women inspire me.

On Sunday and Monday, I participated in a colloquium at John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, where I teach a museum studies course. What I heard at the colloquium resonated all the more because of my trip to Vermont. This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on the confluence of these two events.

Over the course of the two days of the JFKU colloquium, we were treated to three excellent talks, but my favorite was given by Glenn Wharton of NYU and MoMA, who recounted his efforts to restore the painted statue of King Kamehameha (PDF) in North Kohala, Hawaii. You can read many of the details of the project in the report at that link, and I encourage you to do so, as it's a model of community engagement. Wharton is white and an outsider to Hawaiian culture, but he earned the respect of the community by honoring their own processes instead of trying to impose his own.

Within his intriguing and sometimes humorous talk, Wharton's comments about the special privilege of the conservator really struck a chord with me--and by privilege, I mean disciplinary privilege, judiciously applied. Wharton pointed out that few contemporary anthropologists would have the opportunity (or, I think, the unmitigated chutzpah) to walk into a community and engage them in discussions about ethnicity and skin color--a necessary conversation, as the community needed to decide what color to paint the statue's skin. Nor could an anthropologist wander into a community, remove the eyes of a statue--which Wharton did as part of the conservation effort--and ask community members, "Hey, what do you think about that?"

As a Ph.D. in cultural studies, a disciple of material culture studies, and a fan of all things American studies, I'm fascinated by the various ways scholars of culture provoke--and more importantly, permissibly provoke--communities into talking about themselves. In the poorest of these cases, the community is left feeling impoverished for the experience and betrayed by the scholar. In the best of these situations, both outsider and community benefit--the scholar gets his or her data and paper or book, and the community has an opportunity to consider issues they might not have contemplated together prior to the outsider's arrival.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Retail therapy

Spent way more on shoes during my lunch break today than I should have. But aren't they pretty?

Monday, September 22, 2008

If you ever wonder. . .

. . .what it's like to share a house with a 3-year-old boy, a 1-year-old largely untrained 50-pound puppy, and Mr. Trillwing, this video should give you a fair approximation:

(video via The Edge of the American West)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Matt Damon on Sarah Palin

I'm not a huge Matt Damon fan, but what he says below really nicely sums up my feelings on the Palin situation.

(as seen at ClizBiz)

Friday, September 12, 2008

How to frame college for first-year students?

Steve Greenlaw has a very thought-provoking post about engaging students early in a first-year seminar up at Pedablogy. I started to leave this post as a comment there, but it became too long, so I'm posting it here instead.

Sounds like a very interesting course.

My first year of being in a Ph.D. program was at the University of Iowa, and I was assigned to instruct two sections of my own course (with no prior teaching experience--eeek!) in the university's General Education in Literature Program. They had a pretty good mentoring program set up, and one of the faculty told us that our primary job was not necessarily to teach literature (even though we had to cover four genres in the class, teach one Shakespearean play, etc.), but rather to re-instill in students the love of reading they probably had as little kids. So in my class we talked about what they read as kids, why they liked the books they did, and at what point--and why--they stopped reading literature for fun. One student from Michigan had last finished a book in eighth grade: Lord of the Flies. The conversation was eye-opening for me. But taking that little walk down memory lane really helped the students reconnect with words and the place (I felt) literature should have in their lives.

Connecting students with their high school experience is trickier because there's such a wide range of experiences. I don't think it will backfire on you, but to be honest, one of the reasons I left the University of Mary Washington after a single semester is because the classes I happened to take didn't challenge me a whole lot. They were easier than my high school classes. Like your student, I was one of the last to register, and so I ended up in classes that weren't my first picks. I was interested in the topics, and became more interested in them as the semester progressed, but they lacked intellectual rigor and opportunities for self-reflection. They felt like general ed classes. (I wish I had taken one of your classes instead!) My point is that comparing college to high school would have been (a) difficult for me because I was still learning what college was all about--for example, I didn't know that college students only attended class for 12-16 hours a week; I thought it was going to be more like high school, with class all day, and (b) even if I did have some college experience under my belt, my high school classes were more thought-provoking than the college classes I was taking, so the comparison wouldn't have been a favorable one. That said, the questions would have helped me better frame my experience and think earlier rather than later about what I was supposed to be getting out of college.

The college I finally did graduate from--Grinnell--eschewed general ed requirements in favor of trusting students to choose their own paths. We weren't allowed to overdose in any one department (I think 48 credits was the max allowed per department) or division, but our only requirements were a first-year tutorial (which I didn't take because I entered as a sophomore) and whatever requirements were required for our major. And because of the type of student who attended that college, most of us took a very broad range of classes. The stats--and my memory is a bit fuzzy about these--during my tenure there were something like 90 percent of students took math courses and 95 percent took literature courses.

If I were teaching a first-year seminar (and I hope to do so for the first time this spring), I think I would feel compelled to provide the students with a critique of the university system of which they were a part. At my current institution, we have a boatload of general ed requirements--of which first-year seminars are not one. But I would want to ask students why the general education requirements are in place, what is the meaning of a liberal arts education (and can you really get such a thing at a university with class sizes as large as 750)?

My big question for you is this: Are you going to lead students away from a discussion on personal responsibility and move them toward one about possibility and social responsibility? Grinnell framed this nicely for us as incoming students by explicitly framing our experience and privilege as training for community service of all stripes or, as the college calls it in its mission statement, "the common good." That was an awakening for me. I wish someone had told me earlier that my college education was not really about me. Yes, my college years were an excellent time to reflect and grow, but that reflection and growth was in service of a higher ideal--not to get a job, not to get a degree, not to please my parents, not to be recognized as the graduate of an elite liberal arts college, but rather to figure out how best to serve people. I chose education. When I read my class's alumni newsletter, I'm thrilled to see how many people, even 11 years after graduation, are teaching or working for nonprofits or for the government or as doctors or who performed service abroad or who practice law in the public interest.

At our commencement, our speaker, David McCullough, told us that within a week some jerk would say, "Welcome to the real world." He reminded us that the liberal arts endeavor, with its intellectual challenges and cultural critiques and ethic of service, was the real world. I don't think enough undergrads at my current institution share McCullough's view.

Steve, you're a very reflective teacher, and I'm sure whatever path you take with your students, the course will be one they look back on with fondness. Thanks for the invitation to share some thoughts!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dressing dogs for parades: a lesson

(Cross-posted from BlogHer)

This post is only obliquely about dressing dogs for parades.

Rather, it is a post about teaching and learning, albeit illustrated a bit too profusely with examples of dogs in costume.

Yesterday I had the pleasure, along with two colleagues, of speaking to around 50 university faculty from around the world on lesson planning, course development, and interactive learning.

After first describing the usefulness of concept maps in teaching and learning, we asked each faculty member to create a concept map while she developed a lesson plan on dressing dogs for parades.

Put aside any stereotypes you may have about staid professors--these faculty took to this task with vigor, arranging and rearranging sticky notes on paper and drawing connections among the notes. Faculty included concepts such as weather, dog behavior, and dog breed on their maps. They shared their maps with each other and developed their maps further.

At this point we pulled out our secret weapon: L. Dee Fink's simple concept map explaining the elements of instructional design. On this map, learning objectives (goals), learning activities, and evaluation form the three points of a triangle.

We asked the faculty to take another look at their concept maps. What were their learning objectives? What might their learning objectives be if they were teaching this dogs-in-costume lesson within their disciplines? What activities were they going to use to guide the students toward these learning objectives? And how would they know (evaluate) when their students had met these objectives?

The faculty discussed these issues among themselves and came up with some interesting learning objectives, including

  • students will explore contemporary issues in animal rights and welfare

  • students will learn the advantages and liabilities of textiles commonly used in pet and human fashions

  • students will consider whether costuming, along with other observations they have made in their own lives, provides significant evidence that pets have replaced children as repositories of American affection in an age when real incomes are decreasing.

Among activities faculty brainstormed were:

  • having students research the symbols on specific dog costumes to determine their cultural meanings and origins

  • mapping the locations of dog parades in the U.S., and then overlaying the map with data on residents' educational attainment and income levels

  • encouraging students to role play by assuming the perspectives of stakeholders: dog owners, dog behaviorists, dogs, animal welfare activists, local business owners, et. al.

  • taking a field trip to observe a dog parade and interview participants.

Depending on the learning objectives of the course, evaluation methods might include:

  • whether the dog finishes the parade wearing the entire costume

  • a paper exploring Americans' cultural assumptions about and projections of race, class, gender, and sexuality vis-a-vis our pets

  • an essay exam on the thought processes students used in designing costumes for their dogs.

The faculty began our lesson on course development and lesson plans by thinking solely about content: What topics do I need to cover? In what order? And how are these topics related? Many faculty came up with far more topics than could be covered in a 50-minute course period.

By the end of the workshop, faculty began to emphasize teaching and learning processes over content. It's easy--whether you are teaching a university course, an eighth-grade science class, or software training for a business client--to let yourself fall prey to what others have called "the tyranny of content." When you focus less on covering the material and more on processes of teaching and learning--and specifically on learning objectives, activities, and evaluation--you increase the quality of learning and encourage lifelong learning.

There are, of course, some fabulous edubloggers out there who write very thoughtfully about issues just like these. Here are some of my favorites:

On which blogs do you read good stuff about teaching and learning?

image credits: Yoda dog, superhero dogs, lobster dog, hot dog, all used under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Survey on sustainability

A former student of mine is doing market research for a company that is looking into making bioplastics from animal byproducts. She'd like sustainably-minded folks to take her survey. It's short but, I think, important. Would you mind filling it out for her?

Many thanks!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happiness is. . .

. . .a successful potty-training boot camp. We're on the road away from diapers. Woohoo!

. . .new shade plants in the garden.

. . .a dozen broccoli plants in the ground.

. . .big tomatoes (finally) ripening on the three tomato plants, with indications of tomatoes for at least the next month.

. . .an honest-to-goodness ear of corn growing in my sad, stunted little plot of corn. (More than half the seeds I planted were discovered by scrub jays, so I'm lucky anything grew at all.)

. . .lots of baby watermelons.

. . .baking chocolate chip cookies for an almost 3-year-old who is wearing big-boy underpants instead of diapers.

. . .a weekend of 81- and 85-degree days after a Thursday and Friday hovering around 105 degrees.

. . .strong, but not fierce, breezes to accompany these spring-like temperatures. My favorite weather!

. . .a sprint through Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft (to replace my favorite pair of Ann Taylor pants, which Obi chewed up) during a sale, coupons in hand. ~$350 netted me five pairs of fabulous pants (a real achievement for me), three shirts, a lovely green cardigan, a barrette, and a necklace. Plus I now have six coupons--which I can use all at once--for $25 off each $50 I spent at Ann Taylor Loft during the next six weeks or so. Yes--that means if I can scrape together $150, I get $300 worth of clothes from a place that seems to make slacks just for my paunchy belly, flat butt, and longish legs. W00t. (Lest you think I'm a big spender on new clothes, I tend to shop twice a year and buy everything I need to fill the holes in my wardrobe for two or three seasons.)

. . .a nice BBQ with friends--at their house.

. . .seeing Lucas play without fear in the bounce house at our friends' BBQ.

. . .a weekend where Obi didn't destroy too many things. I think he's going to be a puppy for a long, long time.

. . .reconnecting, however briefly, with a couple of creative pursuits.

How was your weekend?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Potty-training boot camp

Posting here will continue to be light, despite the long weekend. . .

. . . because we're having potty-training boot camp. Day 1 went as well as can be expected, and by the end of the day, Lucas was telling us when he needed to pee, although typically he gave us about 2 seconds' notice. We'll work on that tomorrow.

If you have any tips from the trenches, I'd love to hear them. We're using the method described by Dr. Sears in his big baby book--basically Lucas is running around bare-bottomed in the backyard or in underpants in the house, potty always nearby. We reward him with stickers and wind-up toys.

BTW, in one week, Lucas will be 3 years old. Unbelievable. I'll try to post some photos soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

RBOC, highlights and lowlights edition

First, the lowlights:

  • The flash has stopped working on my Canon Rebel XT, and all the fixes in the help forums aren't helping. I don't use the flash much, but it's frustrating nonetheless. I really don't need to be spending money fixing an otherwise great camera right now.
  • It's getting hotter here. The weekend and early this week was beautiful. Now we're firmly back in the 90s, which makes bicycle commuting considerably less fun.
  • The new dog has just begun to smell like wet dog. Ick. Obi also chewed up my favorite, best pair of Ann Taylor slacks. They were sitting in a pile of clothes to go to the cleaner's, so it's partly my fault for leaving them on the floor, but damn, I'm pissed. Neither the local Ann Taylor factory stores or anyone online is carrying them in the same color and in my size. Grrrrrr.
  • Last week Obi, right in front of me, pulled the only bell pepper from my bell pepper plant. It was about halfway to being ripe.
  • We seem to have cultivated in Lucas an addiction to Pixar films, particularly Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc., though he also appreciates the Toy Story movies and, with parental assistance, The Incredibles. Lucas largely ignores branding, however, when it comes to movies. He calls the Muppet movies "froggy" (because of Kermit), Babe is "piggy," and Finding Nemo is "fishies." He also enjoys watching Superman cartoons from the 1940s, episodes of the Johnny Cash Show, and a particular Bruce Springsteen concert DVD. I still worry sometimes that he watches too much TV, but Mommy needs her sanity, you know? Plus he's playing outside, and inside he spends time with puzzles, Play-doh, glue, crayons, pens, watercolors, books, and Tinkertoys. I think we've struck a balance that works for both him and us.

Now, the highlights:
  • The dog's behavior is improving, albeit sloooooowly. And he's amazing with Lucas. Obi occasionally knocks the boy down as he runs crazily around the house or yard, but for the most part they play well together. And while Obi will sometimes nip at, gnaw on, or jump up on Mr. Trillwing and me, he never does so with Lucas. Still, I see puppy kindergarten in his future. Words Obi knows: Obi, treat, sit, muzzle. Obi's instincts tell him to be underfoot, nip, fetch, and get soaked by the hose. Methinks he has some herding dog and Labrador retriever in him.
  • In the garden, I'm having lots of luck with eggplants and teeny tiny cherry tomatoes. And while last summer I planted three tomato plants and grew zero tomatoes--just a lot of stems and leaves, this summer the bigger tomato plants have finally started fruiting. On the three plants right now I have about 20 tomatoes. Yay!
  • I just noticed yesterday that I have some baby watermelons, ranging in size from half an inch to about 3 inches across. Last summer I had one watermelon and it split before it was mature.
  • The two kinds of small-leaf basil I planted have been terrific. I planted them in the raised bed right outside the back door so that I can easily pull off a few leaves when I need them. Now only if I could get the eggplant and basil to hang around long enough for the tomatoes! (I'll try to remember to post garden photos soon.)
  • I'm hoping to find some broccoli to grow during the fall/winter. The gardening maven in the local paper says it's time to plant broccoli starts, and she's always right on in her advice for this region.
  • I'm taking Lucas down to see my parents for several days. Mom and Dad are kind enough to watch him for two full days while I attend a couple of work-related workshops elsewhere in Southern California.
  • At work I'm collaborating with two of my favorite colleagues on a short course (12 hours total) for some visiting Japanese science faculty who want to learn more about incorporating interactivity in their teaching. It's been a blast. There's the possibility of us going to Japan in 2009 to collaborate with another Japanese university on the same subject, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to make the trip--our little family needs a lot of care and feeding right now.
  • Had lunch with Fantastic Mentor today--always a pleasant experience.
  • I booked a whirlwind trip to Vermont in October to visit a good friend and colleague and collaborate with other colleague-friends in an extended weekend retreat. I'm very much looking forward to the trip--I only wish I could stay longer.
  • Lucas is a joy. He's such a fabulous kid. And he's so lucky to have Mr. Trillwing as a father. They're an amazing pair. They spend a full weekday together every week--the other days Lucas is at daycare--and I'm so happy they have this time together.
  • Not sure if this is going to be a high- or lowlight, but we're going to have potty training bootcamp over Labor Day weekend, just before Lucas's third birthday.

In other news, I started therapy again for the first time in years. The last time I had therapy of more than three sessions was in early 2001, so it was time to check in my with mental health. I feel less engaged with the world and less organized than I used to be, and I want to figure out why. (We already know I have dysthymia, which we're treating pretty successfully with antidepressants.) I met with the new therapist yesterday and I like her. She's pretty funny, too.

The problem I run into with therapists, I think, is that compared to many of their patients, I'm very high functioning. For example, yesterday I told New Therapist everything I'm up to these day--working full time, teaching museum studies in the fall, being a parent, blogging hither and yon, gardening, dealing with the chaos of an overgrown puppy. She was impressed rather than concerned. But I'm not as organized or on top of things as I used to be. She pointed out that kids can be really draining, but even during Lucas's early months I was more organized and engaged than I am today. I did laugh when she said, "I know I'm not supposed to argue with my patients. I went to therapy school, so I know I'm just supposed to take notes and say 'uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.' But you're doing amazing things."

I'm hoping therapy won't just be about getting me to lower my expectations for myself. I'd really like to get my shit together and reengage with all aspects of my life.

What's up with you these days?