Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happiness is not...

reading a really irritating research paper, especially when it's almost 20 pages long. How could a student put so much energy into so much craptasticness?

Happiness is...

realizing you've already graded one more research paper than you thought you had!

So far this morning:

Some administrivia
A letter of recommendation

Monday, November 29, 2010

Biking Mojo

I've really lacked biking mojo this year. Put it this way, since I started keeping track, here's what my mileage has looked like:

2007: 2011 miles
2008: 1425 miles (I was in Japan and not biking for 5 months)
2009: 2380 miles
2010: 944 miles

That's quite a drop off, isn't it. :(

I've been biking inside more this fall since it got cold, so I may hit 1000 miles before the end of the year.

I think part, maybe a lot, of the drop off had to do with gaining weight last year. I gained about 15 pounds. (I know, that's a lot in a year.) And correspondingly, my average biking speed dropped about 1mph, from around 15 mph to about 14mph (outside, just from the bike journal logs). I think that's related. And it makes it less fun to ride when I ride more slowly, somehow (though logically, who cares?).

I also tended to ride shorter rides. I just didn't feel like riding for a couple hours instead of an hour. That may also have had to do with weight. I don't know.

Anyway, I just didn't have much biking mojo this year.

That's part of why I started running a bit, because going outside to play with a new toy is better than nothing. And I've had fun running, which is good.

And since the beginning of the school year, I've lost about 10 pounds (not impressive, I know). And I brought my bike inside and put it on the trainer (because I HATE being cold).

I haven't been religious about the trainer, because it's really not nearly as fun as riding outside. But I know if I'm going to run or ski when the time comes, then I need to get some exercise on most days, so I've tried at least several times a week. I have the trainer set on the lowest possible resistance, and then use the gears to get the right feel. (It's a cheap trainer, so at higher resistances it feels jerky and not comfortable.) My goal is to just ride with a good cadence and reasonable heart rate, for at least half an hour at a time.

And maybe I'll start to get my mojo back and have more fun skiing and so forth?

The thing about the trainer is that the weight doesn't work against you as much as it does riding for real. There are no hills. (Yes, I know, I could change gears to make things harder, but then it feels jerky.)

My first inside on the trainer day was September 24. My bike journal says I went half an hour at an average speed of 20mph. As I recall, I was spinning at about 84rpm mostly (my bike computer shows rpm, but doesn't average it over the ride, so I'm just working from memory).*

Today I did 32 minutes at an average speed of 22.5mph.

That's a fair improvement. I'm mostly spinning at about 90rpm through most of the ride, too. For most of the past month and a half, I've been spinning in the mid-80s, and then last week, I was spinning at almost 90 mostly, and then getting easily to 93 or so. (I'm not super steady; today I rode mostly between 187 and 195, depending on what was happening on the tv I was watching, until near the end when I realized that I was setting a new speed record, and pushed harder for the last 15 minutes and kept it at about 92 pretty well.)

The Fat Cyclist has a weight loss challenge for the month: lose 10 pounds by December 23rd. When I looked earlier, he had 400+ responses, with lots of people entering.

I'm not entering, because I don't think I can realistically lose 10 pounds in a month. But it's a good challenge.

And I did wear a pair of pants today that I haven't worn in a goodly while because they were uncomfortably tight. They're not loose now, but they're not uncomfortable, either, so that's good.

I'm hoping if I lose weight (ideally, I'd lose a lot) and keep working on the bike, then a couple things will happen:

I'll have an easier time learning how to skate ski, and have more fun skate and classic skiing this winter. I theorize that falling hurts less if I'm lighter, and it's easier to get up after. Falling is an important consideration in my skiing efforts.

I'll be able to run a 5K thing in spring (I ran 5K a week or two ago, but I'd like to run faster and more consistently). (I notice a fairly big difference already when I run a bit.)

I'll be able to bike more and better next summer, and get my biking mojo back. I missed my biking mojo this year, and I want it back.

*Bikers have various approaches to how fast to pedal and how hard to push. One approach is the Lance Armstrong approach, which is to pedal at a high rpm (cadence) against low pressure. Racing types who "spin" tend to ride at 90+rpms for mile after mile. The other approach--I think it's the Greg LeMonde approach--is to pedal at slower rpms at higher pressure.

Racing types, of course, spin a fast cadence against bigger gears than I use on much bigger hills. And racing mashers spin pretty darned fast, too. That train left the station a long time ago for me!

My sense is that I ride better using a lower pressure; in the past I've tended to ride with a cadence in the low to mid 80s outside. So I'm hoping that if I get my legs in the habit of riding a faster cadence, I'll be able to do so outside as well. And assuming I'm riding the same low pressure gear, I should then be faster. We'll see. (My real weakness is hills; losing weight should help more than anything. If I lost 50 pounds, I'd have a LOT easier time going up hills.)

Truly Grateful

I woke up yesterday, and just felt good, notably good. I usually feel fine, but yesterday, I felt good. I did some grading, got some chores done, and relaxed.

I think every so often, that third day of a weekend really, really makes a difference. For me, day four was a total bonus.

I feel refreshed. I'm mostly caught up on grading (the research papers that came in on Wednesday are more than half done, even) and have a good sense of where things are going for the next couple of weeks.

These will be busy weeks for us in all sorts of ways, but I'm looking forward to the business.

For a four day weekend with lots of rest and relaxation, I am truly grateful.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Question for Boy Wizard Fans

I went with my niece to see the latest film. It was okay. It's missing something that the earlier films had, some newness, perhaps. It's like the wizard world is too familiar now, or something.

Anyway, in the middle books, Rowling introduced elves; mostly in that film, they're house elves, basically slaves. Disgustingly, in the book, the house elves of "good" masters (as at Hogwarts) like being house elves. It's only when they have Malfoy type masters that they really hate their slavery.

But that aside, the elves seem very powerful in these texts. Really, really powerful. They're innately magical in ways that humans aren't, it seems.

So I have two questions: how did they get enslaved? And how come they don't take over?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Tally

I'm so far behind in my grading that it's shameful.

Today and tomorrow, I'm working on catching up:

Here's the list of what I've finished so far today:

Set of quizzes
Set of peer editing responses
Set of presentations
Set of presentation responses
A few short papers (in response to activities; they come in at different times)

It looks pretty minimal set out this way. Here's what's left to grade:

Set of short papers from seminar
11 more research papers from first year class (5 done!)
Several presentations from seminar
A few more short papers (in response to activities; they come in at different times) (all done!)
A set of journals Done!

Probably other stuff I haven't sorted through yet. :(

I found a set of revisions to grade.
I also have to write a letter of recommendation.

I also have to record the grades I've got.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Breaking the Law, Willfully and on Purpose

I'm breaking the law today. Right now, I'm taking a break from lawbreaking.

You see, my state has declared that all state workers have to take furloughs, and has mandated this day as a furlough day for most of us (except those who are necessary to keep the state going). That means we're not supposed to do anything related to work today. Nothing. Nada.

But, of course, I have a boatload of grading to get done. The grading either has to be done now or at a different time. If we faculty folks had good sense, then we'd figure out a way to require 3 point something percent less work from our students, so we'd have 3 point something percent less grading. But I'm not that smart.

The thing is, I create assignments that I think and hope will help my students learn; I don't make students do things just to torture them or because I like grading hell. So I don't know how to reduce what I require in a meaningful way.

I'm at my sibling's; as a family, on holiday times, we tend to make slow starts. And it's cold outside (but not snowy), so it's not inviting me out to play. And I haven't managed to convince anyone else to go out and play, either. So it's either nap, or watch TV, or read, and as long as I'm reading, I may as well be grading.

So far, the count for the four day break is:

4 research papers from the writing course
most of the prep for a thesis defense (for which I'm second reader)

I have so much to do that I can't bring myself to make a list, but if I can make progress today, maybe tomorrow I can bring myself to make a list.

Meanwhile, if anyone cares to come arrest me so that I don't willfully work, please do.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and wish you lovely leftovers today! (I love leftover turkey sandwiches even more than I love eating turkey on Thanksgiving.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Off Campus

So, I have these neighbor semi-friends. I don't know them really well, but on occasion, the male partner has helped break down the ice berm at the end of my drive in winter. And the female partner and I have chatted some.

Not so long ago, the female partner had bariatric surgery. She didn't tell most people, but she told me because she asked for some day time assistance when her partner wasn't around. It was a little thing, something she couldn't take care of while recovering, but that I easily could, so I did. We chatted some, because we were there. You know how it goes.

It's been about a month, maybe six weeks. (I don't keep close track.) In movie parlance, time passes.

She's recovered fine and is on this really strict diet; she says it's going well. She also says she's excited because she needed to buy some new clothes. I congratulated her.

But she's also disappointed because no one that she hasn't told has mentioned her weight loss or how good she looks (not at her work, not in the neighborhood, not her other friends).

I think there are two things in play here. First, she doesn't look that different to the casual observer. If I didn't know she'd had the surgery and was successfully losing weight because she told me, I wouldn't notice. (I tend not to notice clothes and weight in friends. I tend to notice voice and expression more.) So there's that. She's long worn the sort of loose clothes that are supposed to hide our weight, and still does, so maybe it's successfully hiding the weight. I don't have the nerve to tell her that the weight loss doesn't show, though, because she's pretty darned happy about it, and it's not the easiest thing to stay on the diet and all.

I have a colleague who had bariatric surgery a couple years ago now, at the beginning of summer. In the three months of summer, she lost a dramatic amount of weight; it was noticeable even to me. I think the noticeability depends a lot on how much people weigh and how they carry it before the surgery, probably.

Second, this is a "polite" part of the country. It's supposed to be, anyway. People will smile, but not really see you here, if that makes sense. And weight is one of those things that your adult friends won't generally mention; I don't tell people who are overweight that they look especially heavy today or anything. And so I wouldn't tend to say anything about looking less heavy. Mostly, that's because I don't pay much attention to other people's weight (I have my own to pay attention to), but there's also a fair bit of social conditioning: it's not appropriate for me to comment on another adult's body.

I especially can't imagine saying anything about weight to this neighbor pre-surgery, because I think she'd have told me off something awful.

We were doing the stand around in a driveway thing with another neighbor recently, chatting about the weather or whatever, and since our houses are further up, my neighbor who'd had surgery and I walked away from the conversation together. She commented about how disappointed she is that no one says anything about her weight loss. (I was sympathetic and said how people around here try to be polite.) She really wants to talk about the surgery and her weight loss, because she's proud and happy of how it's going, but she doesn't want to bring it up.

I never know how to handle diet/weight issues with folks. I tend to try to be supportive, and keep my nose in my own business. But bariatric surgery seems to change the rules somehow in ways I don't quite get.

Speaking of my business: So, I've been trying to lose weight, but it's slow. I've lost maybe 7 pounds. And yesterday, I mostly ran 5K, which is more than before, and I feel good about it (that is, I'm not sore). My feet were cold in the happy toes things, though, so I either need to go with regular shoes or get these wool toe socks that are designed to be worn with the happy toes things.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

When Good Chairs Make Bad Decisions

Our chair is basically a good chair. But, there's a decision that's basically gotten made, by the chair, that really shouldn't be made by the chair. It should be made by the committee of tenured folks. It's not that it's in itself a bad decision, but the decision to make the decision without consulting the CTF is a bad decision, if that makes sense.

To second guess myself, why is it I'm worried about the process rather than the decision?

Have I become one of "those" faculty members?

I think it's actually because I want my colleagues to weigh in and consider this decision, and I want to hear their reasons for favoring it or not.

As often is the case, it's a matter of resources. Our resources are very limited.

On the one hand, if X happens over then next several years, then this will prove to be a very good use of resources.

But, if X doesn't happen, then this will prove a poor use of resources, but one we can't really change. Now, it's likely that X will happen, but there's no sure thing.

But then, if we put our resources into the chair's choice, then the chair has the option to do something he very much wants to do, Y, ESPECIALLY if X doesn't happen. But Y isn't in the interests of our department, though very much in the chair's personal interests. So, if the chair puts our resources into his choice, and X doesn't happen, then his Y will be seen as sort of a favor to the department.

And so we're all wound around.

The same sort of thing happened a couple of years ago; the decision was made by the chair to use resources for one thing, and then, by golly, the thing that was supposed to guard us against didn't happen, but it freed up the chair to do his thing.

Meanwhile, those of us who really think we could use resources in another area might as well be whistling in the wind.

Friday, November 19, 2010

From this Side of Campus

When I was at the conference, I had some helpful conversations with some smart people about using a survey program (Qualtrics) to get some more responses to my research questionnaires. It sounds good. I played a bit with the program there, and ran into a couple of problems, so when I came back on Monday, I called the Technology for Learning Team, TLT. TLT does lots of stuff to encourage people to use "technology" for teaching (by which, alas, they don't mean books or even pencils and paper, but electronics; but let's not forget that pencils on paper is a most excellent technology! And I love book technology!).

I called so that I could speak to a human being. And I did. And that human being offered to help me make an appointment. So she filled out a computer appointment request. She said they'd email me with an appointment time, so I asked, what if I'm teaching at that time. And she hesitated, as if that had never come up before, and said I could just ask for a different appointment.

What I was really hoping was that the person would say, sure, come by! Our drop in hours are X and Y this week. I didn't think that was unrealistic, because their website advertises that they have drop in hours, though it doesn't say what they are.

I got an email the next day, offering me an appointment during my class time. So I emailed back, asking for another time.

The next day, I got an email offering a time that worked for me on Thursday, so I said, yes, thanks!

But within two hours, I got another email cancelling that because the person who was supposed to teach me was doing a CPR class.

Then I got an offer for a Friday time, but all my Friday is taken up with meetings from 9-3 today (I'll be late to one meeting because I'm teaching, but my colleagues know that). (I know. It sucks to be me.)

Then there was an email about well, gosh, next week is difficult.

And so, we settled on a meeting for the Thursday after Thanksgiving.

It seems to me that the technology and procedures that should make scheduling meetings for technology office staff isn't working as well as they should. I'm sure there's a human being in there somewhere who's talking to the TLT folks, but I wasn't talking to them, but to an intermediary. Now, I understand if I'm trying to make an appointment with a dean that their staff person handles making appointments. But that person can actually make the appointment, so I can just call and work it out. I don't have to email back and forth for the better part of a week.

I have a sinking feeling that in the time I've spent emailing, I could have read the directions for Qualtrics and figured out how to do the three things I want to do:

1) Make several question answers go to specific next questions (so that the person who answers "yes" to question three goes to one version of question four, and the person who answers "no" goes to another).

2) Doing that also seems likely to require that the questions won't all appear at once on the screen, but will need the respondent to "flip" or "page" through. So I need to learn how to do that.

3) I need to learn how to make it so when I email to a person or list, each person receiving the link to the survey can get on there, and only those people can get on there.

Maybe by the week after Thanksgiving I'll have read the directions and figured it out. (Heck, I should have spent my time just now doing that instead of blogging my frustration!)

Here's the point. From my side of campus, it's a pain in the rear to get help with a technology thing that our TLT folks really want us to use. I'm not a super early adopter or a computer whiz, but I'm not anti-technology right off the bat. My love for technology corresponds very closely to how user friendly or learnable the technology is, how useful it is, and how fun it is (and, if I'm purchasing it myself, how it fits into my budget). I think a week and a half is too long to wait to get help with three or four smallish questions.

How does it look from the TLT side of campus?

I'm guessing there's a certain sense that we instructional folks are privileged and that we only work 12 hours a week. From that side, it probably looks like since we only have 12 hours a week in class, we should be a lot more flexible about when we can meet tech folks for help. The tech folks don't see that I'm scheduled by the advising/transfer folks to meet with students, don't see that I've got standing committee meetings, office hours, and lots of advising meetings to help students change majors or minors.

I'm guessing we seem recalcitrant and slow to pick up new things. (I can't see the point of clickies in my classes, for example. I just can't. I can't think of a single useful multiple choice question to ask about Othello. Can you?) I ask my share of really stupid questions, I assure you.

I'm guessing that they're frustrated when they offer a "learn this program" class and we instructional folks don't show up. (Because we don't know that we might someday want to use the program, or we don't have time in the midst of grading madness, or whatever.)

How do we bridge the gap? How do we get the LTL folks to help us more efficiently? How do we get the help with the things we want help with? (I don't know what the LTL folks desires are.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Committee Meeting Minutes

I'm on the Approval Committee for Happenings. We get proposals to make X or Y happen, and we either approve them (usuall) or send them back for clarification, explanation, or reworking, or, almost never, reject them.

So, I'm in a meeting, and we've been asked to approve a happening. We got information about the happening last week, and generally are asked to look at that, and forward any questions, so if there are things the requestor can respond to in the meeting, s/he'll come to respond or explain. And if not, these happenings being mostly small and routine, we'll do our business without them.

And we're in this meeting, and we approve several happenings. We come to the last happening, which requires its own approval, and someone motions to approve, and someone else seconds. Now is discussion time. So, Harry from a department not unrelated to this happening says, "I think it's a problem with this and that aspect of the happening." This is appropriate. Harry explains the problem he has for several minutes, so that we all have a basic understanding of the problem. And then he stops.

So I ask, "Do you want to send the proposal back to the requestors so they can respond, and perhaps reconsider what you're seeing as a problem?"

And Harry says, "No, I don't care. I just wanted to make sure that everyone realized..." and goes on for several minutes reiterating at the same level as before (that is, without adding new information or summarizing what he'd already said) the problem he had.

So here's the thing, you've told us once. If it's important to you, then we should send it back for rethinking. If not, then you don't have to retell us the same thing again. And again, because he did.

We approved the happening, and then miscellaneously agreed not to meet next week, and adjourned. At which time another member said that we should send a note to the requestors asking for an explanation of why they wanted this particular thing in the happening we approved.

And again, Harry started in with how it wasn't important but... at which point, I left (because the meeting had been adjourned). As I was leaving, I overheard Harry say that he was going to go ask the requestors why they'd done the request as they had.

I really, really wish Harry would have done that before we met, or asked the chair to ask (as we usually do), rather than waiting to bring up and drop and bring up and drop the issue in the meeting.

I won't get those minutes back.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Smile on a Rough Day

I got the news today that a family member who was aged and ill died last night. I feel very far from home at these times, and especially far from the people I'd like to comfort, the family member's sibling, especially.

But one of my friends linked this through facebook: Jon Carroll: A Communique from the Unitarian Jihad.

The local Unitarians put together a team to play some sport in a league a couple years ago, and called themselves "The Tolerators."

I'd like to join, if just I can think of a good name for myself. I promise to bring a hot dish.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Odds Are...

when I write an especially half-assed post, IHE picks it up to link.

I used to think it was cool when IHE linked. But then I realized that almost no one who comes from there responds or comes back, so it's more sort of like having strangers come into the house, and you know you're both wondering why they're there.

I check the sitemeter sometimes. I used to be pretty obsessive, but I got a bit more over myself. But I still check, and that's how I realized the IHE link (because it's not like there are more comments or anything). And then I realized there's also a repeated source link that I didn't recognize. It's from what looks like a discussion board that puns on "crucial." From what I gather from my quick net exploration, it's a discussion board either for or about hipsters.

Okay, so I'm about as far from hip in any formulation you can think of.

The discussion link talks about what a whiny blogger I am. Which is a fair epithet sometimes, for sure.

But here's what I want to know: don't you lose all possibility of any association of being cool (yes, you can tell I grew up in the 60s) if you acknowledge that you've read an academic blog by a middle aged woman?

I'm getting on my bike now. There can be little less cool than riding your bike in the sunroom while watching Frontline. I have to accept that.

Choosing Another Major

I had a student come in today for advising. This is a student I "inherited" from the colleague I'm replacing for the year, so I don't know the student from before or anything.

The student was doing education, but doesn't want to do education, and actually doesn't want to do English. So we talked about some other possibilities.

I think sometimes, students really need someone to give them permission not to pursue an education degree (and I'm sure some need permission not to pursue other pre-professional type degrees, too, but education's the one I see). He'd set up his schedule to fill education requirements, but they really make no sense for the other major he's thinking he wants to study. So, we talked and he's planning now to sign up for courses that will help him explore the other major and a possible minor.

This is one of those interactions that would seem negative on paper. Bardiac's lost a major! Oh nozors! The bean counters who care about how many majors we serve would tsk tsk. They'd look carefully at our bottom line, and think about how they can cut our funding, maybe.

But from the student's point of view, it was a helpful meeting. He said, at least, that he was feeling much better about school from our meeting. He went from seeming stressed and unsure/unhappy to looking enthusiastic and engaged. He's excited about the courses he'll be taking next semester.

I think the bean counters forget sometimes that we're educating human beings and not beans. A bean can't choose to be a different sort of bean, but a human being can change majors and learn different things. My student wants to learn different things. I'm okay with that. I'm okay with the bean counters tsk tsking, too, I guess.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Wall

I'm feeling like I've hit the wall for the semester.

I'm behind enough in my grading that I can't decide if I should just grade whatever's on top and work down, or if I should try to organize it.

I have revisions to grade. And I have conferences about the next set of revisions.

I have presentations to grade, and responses to presentations. And a few more presentations to come.

I have other presentations to grade, and written work in my senior seminar, and more conferences to help students work on their seminar papers.

Wednesday, I'll also get a stack of peer editing responses. I hate grading peer editing responses, but I have to say, it's one place where students dramatically improve their work when they realize it's graded and that it's not just a "turn it in and get an A" sort of thing. But damn, they're just boring and blah to grade.

Every so often, I'm taken totally aback by a student question. The other day, in my senior seminar, a student asked what the little circles in the text meant. (They look like degree marks.) It's a fairly common typographical symbol that there's a note or a glossary bit somewhere else in the text, either at the bottom or side of the page or in the back. But this student, a senior English major or minor, had never encountered them before. AND, s/he also didn't read the book in the sort of way that I expect English students to read.

I guess I really do expect that a student will glance through the table of contents, at least scan the introduction, and look at the back for an index or gloss or notes. Any of those things would have helped this student figure out what the little circles were about, I think.

I'm tired of students complaining, and most tired when I feel like I haven't done a really good job of some aspect of the class, so the complaint is pretty reasonable. Every semester, I try to do some things, especially in my writing class, but also this semester in my senior seminar, that just don't work. This semester, it's mostly around reading and discussing race theory and racism. I feel awfully clumsy about the ways I try to lead discussions. And yet, I still think it's important to try.

I'm thinking about using a qualtrics survey to see how students are finding the advising sessions I've put together, and how I might improve them. I refuse to use the "a word" about this, because I want to do this not for some accrediting task, but to actually be more efficient and effective about the advising work.

When is the weekend again?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Library Advice for Students

I'm reading a play I haven't read since the last time I taught this course. I have two copies of this text, and it looks like I had lent this copy out to a student at some point. How do I know? I know because it's got all these bits of text circled in pencil. I suppose I should be grateful it's penciled, but who the hell writes in someone else's book? If I remembered who I'd lent it to, I'd write them a nasty email even now.

A couple years ago I ordered a book for the library, and a student in my grad course was the first person to take it out (for a review assignment). The student lent me the book during the dicussion of the review, and it was written in in ink. So I asked the student, and she said, all shocked that I would dare to question, yes, of course she'd written in the book. Then I ranted at her for a good long time.

Now, I write in my own books. I expect people to write in their books. I write in pencil these days, but I've written in pen. But that's my OWN book.

I just erased the circlings. Bleargh. What a useless marking a circle is, anyway. At least if you're going to write in a book, write useful notes!

But mostly, don't write in books that aren't your own personal property, especially if they're MY books! And don't write in library books.

And oh, yeah, if you borrowed my copy of Hendricks and Parker, please, for the love of dog, return it!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Conference Hotel

I'm at a conference. The hotel has this huge bed in a huge room, and I can't help thinking, I've lived in apartments that weren't much bigger than that bed.

I tend to be a fairly still sleeper, and I tend to pull my arms in fairly tight rather than splaying out, and I like to be within reach of my glasses on the bedside table. So, when I get up, I've disturbed about one quarter of the bed, and the rest looks like no one's been there.

I've figured out why administrators hate paying for academics to go to conferences (because there are also administrative types at this conference hotel doing their own thing). First, administrative type conferences are totally unlike scholarly ones. Administrators sit around and listen to "experts" tell them what to do and what's hot and not in their job field. In contrast, scholarly conferences tend to be where we talk about our work with other scholars. We don't sit around and just take notes and listen. But administrators seem to think we do.

Second, most administrative conferences seem to be mostly just BS excuses to hang out in the bar drinking. Scholarly conferences often also involve bars and drinking (or other things, if you live in a Lodge novel), but we're actually doing stuff that matters during the day. But administrators think we're just sitting and listening to the same BS they do.

That's my theory of conferences. And why is it that our administration pays for endless conferences for administrators, and then severely limits funding for faculty? A question for the ages.

But now, signing off to go learn stuff!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Online Calendar Woes

I had my usual office hours this morning; I'd just finished talking with a student, and moved the computer mouse to change from the screensaver to open email thing, where I saw an appointment pop up. Usually, the only way the computer email appointment thing pops up is when I make arrangements for a class to go to the library for library instruction, and the librarian sends a request, and I accept it, and then it goes on my system calendar. Other than that I don't use the calendar.

Instead, I have this amazing little paper thing that I carry with me and write in. I can flip back and see when I had an appointment; I can flip forward and see when I'm able to give blood again, when birthdays are, all sorts of stuff. (Yes, I have to write that in every year, but it takes about fifteen minutes all told, and it's not that hard. And I get to use different colors for different things, which is fun.)

The people who use the system calendar thing tend to be administrators whose secretaries control their appointment calendar. Everything goes on there, and then the administrator opens their iphone or whatever during meetings and flips through instead of paying attention. (Not that I'd notice, except, yes, it happens way more often than students disrupting things with texting.) But, since I don't synch my life with the computer nor do I have a secretary to control my appointments, I don't use the calendar.

Anyway, there's this appointment that's been made, by someone whose name I don't recognize, and I'm just starting to process that I don't know what the heck this is about, when a person walks into my office and says she has an appointment, that she just made it on the computer.

Um, no. The computer doesn't run my life like that, sorry. But, it is office hours, so I take care of her advising needs (and alas, I'm guessing she thought I was a little brusque).

She said that the office of [administrators] told her to make appointments this way and that she could see my free time, so she made an appointment.

I seriously don't have any clue how she did it. I can't figure out that same information by looking at my calendar, nor could the department admin assistant who usually knows how to do stuff.

I don't know if the office of [administrators] is able to check schedules, including office hours, or if she just chanced to make an appointment during what are my regular office hours.

But I sure wish I could figure it out, because I hope no one else creates an appointment and then thinks I should be bound by it. (There's a lot of time that might show on a computer schedule as "free" that's really totally scheduled into meetings or conferencing or something. Or if it's really free, I might even step out of the office and grade at home in my PJs.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

We have some programs on campus that are pretty competitive and some that require some state mandated tests before you can enter, even.

I saw a student today who's been told several times to take the state mandated test before he can take the entry level courses in this program, but he doesn't quite seem to have gotten around to it. And that means he can't take the entry level courses, and that means he can't take the mid-level courses, and that means he'll be delayed in actually applying to get into the program.

But then, this same student also has a GPA that's close to minimal for the program. The student talked about what a mistake he'd made in transferring a grade of B from another institution. And I said, trust me when I say, that B you got in X class is NOT what dropped your GPA into the C range. Seriously.

We talked a little about the GPA being dangerously low for a competitive problem. To me, it seems like the student is shooting himself in the foot, and maybe that means that student really doesn't want to do that program? Or just isn't as focused on it as the people who get in and succeed are?

An additional aspect of this problem is that the program is in another college, but if the student doesn't get accepted into the program, he'll have to choose a major in a second college, and that college has some additional requirements that the student won't have. (Most students who are on top of things listen when we advise them to fill the harder requirement early on, so that they can opt out of the program if they want to, and that's a very good thing.)

And can I just say, it always worries me when a student comes in and doesn't know what he's taking this term or whose teaching those classes. It's not like I'm asking who your third grade teacher was. Don't you know who's standing in front of your face 3 or more hours a week blabbing? Really? You have, what, five, six instructors, and you can't remember their names or what classes you're taking?

There is not enough bourbon, is there?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Could I Pass Junior High?

I'm the go to person for some sorts of questions for different kids I know.

Tonight, I got a call from a junior high student wanting help figuring out the "theme" of a book.

I'm lousy at this sort of thing. You think I'd be good at it, eh? But I'm not quite sure what the junior high teacher means by "theme."

What do they mean by "theme"? Any ideas?

The kid didn't seem to know what the teacher meant by "theme." That may be because the teacher didn't really explain (because it's obvious, right?) or the kid may have zoned out during that part of class. (It's a kid, after all. Surely they zone out as often as college students?)

I talked to the kid a bit. There must be some special skill I've never developed to understanding kids with braces. (I know, I was a kid with braces, and no one could understand me.)

To me as an adult, it sounded like one of those books that's supposed to be all "even girls can be main characters" but at the end the prince has taken a liking to the main girl character. But I didn't think that the teacher would really go for a half-baked feminist critique, and I sure can't explain the whole of feminism to a junior high student before bedtime.

It also sounded like one of those books where the kids are sent away for their own good, to be raised elsewhere, but the kid I was talking to really didn't know why, or seem to think it was important. But if someone's sending a kid away to be raised, I figure there must be a good reason, right?

More High End Shoe Blogging

Some of you may remember the last time I made a foray into shoe blogging. (More on that purchase a bit later.)

Well, once again, I'm there. I totally blew my shoe budget for a bit.

One of the sports shops in the next town north has a rather famous swap sale every fall for winter ski stuff. I bought basic classic style cross country skis at the shop a couple of winters ago now, and have been enjoying them a lot when there's snow on the ground. I'm not at all good, but I get out and get some fresh air, often in the company of one or another friend, and I get some exercise. These are things much to be desired, especially in the midst of winter.

Since I'm now in their customer database, I got a postcard about the swap last week. The swap started on Saturday, so one of my friends (let's call her S) went with me to see what we could find.

And here's what I found!!!!

You may be thinking, but B, you already have skis and boots, don't you? Why would you get another pair of boots?

Ahh, well, I do already have classic skis and boots, but these are boots for skate skis! Yes, I'm going to try skate skiing some this winter. I tried it once with a friend's skis (and some rental boots), and it was HARD. But if I try some more, maybe I will enjoy that as a change up or in places that are groomed for skate skiing but not for classic skiing?

And, you see, they're yellow. That means I'll be WAY faster than my friend whose boots are orange. Because yellow boots are faster, right?

Now before you scroll down to see the skis, well, I didn't get skis. The swap had only a few pairs of skate skis, and none were right for me. (What counts as right for a given skier, on the most basic level, involes the person's weight and height. One of my biking friends is one of the ski club folks who contributes time to the swap to help people, and she helped me look at the skis and suggested I not get any that were there. We also consulted with one of the shop workers, and he agreed that I wouldn't have nearly as much fun on those as I would on skis that were a good fit for me. So I'll either have to go look for other used skis or buy new ones. But the bindings on these shoes are very much in line with standard skate ski bindings, so that shouldn't be a problem.)

You can, however, scroll down to see my other new shoes!

Lookee! I found a pair of used snow shoes. I've learned that it's way fun to have a friend go snow shoeing with me, but not everyone has snow shoes. But they're not the sort of thing that requires a precise fit for a basic walk, and they're not so expensive that having an extra pair around would cause my precipitous bankruptcy, so I got this extra pair.

Then S had an idea about going for a run. S runs. And she uses the R word. But I figure, S knows how slowly I run, and how whussy I am, so if S suggests going for a run together, it means she's happy to have my company knowing my limitations. I figure it's like when I invite one of my friends to go biking who doesn't bike as fast as I do; I'm inviting them because I enjoy their company and I'm happy to bike with them.

There's a new park being worked on in our city area; the city is in the process of taking out some trees for ski and snowshoe and bike trails, and S wanted to explore it a bit. So off we went. Remember my fivefingers happy toes? Well, the cleared parts of this trail were pretty lovely soft dirt, and it was GREAT playing! It's not like I burned up the trail, but I mostly ran for 40 minutes and was happy (we walked on the uphill parts) and felt good.

And this is going to be one glorious park. We went up one hill, and found ourselves on an area above a river, and it was beautiful to see through the fall trees out over the area.

And now I'm excited at the thought of snowshoing up there, too!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Presentations: the good vs the miserable

We started presentations on research projects today in my writing course.

I emphasize that students should do their presentation in whatever way seems most effective to them. We do a brainstorming activity where we talk about the worst presentations they've seen, and the best. We talk about what not to do, and what has worked for them in the past.

Before the presentations start, I have the students trade pre-prepared questions they'd like asked after their presentation. That way, each student gets a little practice with a very softball question or two. And other students get a moment to think of "real" questions. It works pretty well.

And then the presentations start.

The first went well. The presentor used an open form, starting with a question, then explained why some people argue X, introducing his sources as he went, and then why some people argue Y, again introducing his sources appropriately. He finished by saying that he argues Y, and gave us a final point, that maybe Y could be reconsidered if something specific changed.

It wasn't the most exhilarating presentation ever, but it was quite good. His first two questions (the prepared ones) went well, and then some other people had questions, which he answered well.

The second was a disaster.

When we do the brainstorming, you can tell that some people get it. Even if they haven't thought about presentations as a type of teaching, and even if they hadn't thought about the fact that their teachers do different things, sometimes more, sometimes less effectively, these students begin to understand that the focus isn't really about some song and dance, but about communicating what they care about to the audience so that the audience understands and maybe even remembers next week.

Organization isn't just about the beauty of order; it's about helping people understand the connections between points, helping people understand the background they need to understand a deeper issue.

A picture or powerpoint isn't about the gee whiz I can do this technology! It's about helping people visualize information so they can understand and maybe remember it. (I don't think most people in class pay close enough attention to the presentations to remember them easily, but the good ones, people do remember for a bit at least.)

So this second presentation was a disaster. For some reason, the student has a habit of starting a sentence, pausing after the verb but not at a real stopping point, and then starting another sentence. He does it as a speech habit in office hours, too, but it was way worse in the presentation.

I don't quite know how to reach this student, but I'd like to be able to get him to slow down a bit and focus on getting the most important part of the message across rather than trying to get so much information out of his mouth.

But the starting sentences and then changing works on a bigger level, too. The student will say that there's are two aspects, and then forget to talk about the second aspect and go on to something minimally related. It's like there's this frantic rush, a sort of collage of everything all together, but in a presentation, the audience doesn't have time to think and make the connections as we might with a piece of art in a real collage. We need guidance to make the connections, and this student isn't helping us.

And I don't know how to help the student do better next time. Telling him to slow down and focus only on the most important information didn't help (because we discussed that in conference last week).

Sometimes, I feel like an especially inept and inapt teacher.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Double Majors and Graduation Rates

We have a fair number of students doing a double major rather than a more traditional major and minor. We have some doing a double major and a minor. Some doing a major and two minors.

I was talking to a student the other day who's thinking of doing a double major, changing his current English minor to a major. It would take him at least an extra semester (he's well along in the minor, so he's not starting from scratch).

Why, I asked, after making clear that I'll do the paper work if he really wants me to.

He answered that he thought having two majors would make it easier to get a job.

So we talked. It's not my impression that having two majors makes it easier to get a job, unless one of those majors is in a really specific job field (such as nursing). But having two liberal arts majors isn't a huge advantage over having a major and a minor, so far as I can tell.

And it costs a lot. With books and food and a place to live, a semester here can cost more than $8K. (I realize you're laughing at that if you're somewhere that costs 40K a year, but we're not.)

There are good reasons to spend that 8K. If you think your happiness depends on a couple of courses, then that's money well spent. If you absolutely can't live without this major, then again, money well spent. But if your aim is to get a job, and the job title isn't "English major" then my sense is that it really doesn't matter.

We have a less than stellar four year graduation rate, though that's something the state and our own administration would like to change. And there's good reason to wish that more students could graduate in 4 years.

We have a pretty good five year rate, and a better 6 year rate, but the four year rate is low. I'm guessing there's a certain percentage of students who think that the opportunity cost of going for an extra semester or two is worth it if they can get an extra major on their transcript, because if one is good, then two must be better!

I sent the student off to talk to his other major advisor and to think about the costs before we did the paperwork (which, again, I am happy to do if he really does want to stay an extra semester).

The important question is about whether there really is an advantage to students in doing a second major rather than a major and a minor? What say you, wisdom of the internet? Do they learn a full year's worth of additional skills towards employment, or would they be better off graduating and getting on with their lives? (Yes, I know the economy sucks right now, but we still have a pretty darned impressive employment after graduation rate.)

If Department Meetings Were Like Revenge Tragedy #2

Monday, November 01, 2010

Start Your Conferences

My students have a research paper assignment. In short, they have to come up with a real question and then do research to try to answer it. The question has to be real for them; it can't be something they already know the answer (or their answer) to.

It doesn't seem like that hard an idea to grasp, does it?

We started in on this a couple weeks ago, so they had time to brainstorm ideas and start working on finding appropriate resources.

I gave students feedback on a journal about their question and such last week, and warned the students who didn't seem to actually have questions that I didn't think they actually had questions.

This week, I'm conferencing with them.

My first conference was with a student who'd planned on writing about how to live a healthy lifestyle. I'd warned her last week that I didn't think that was a real research question, because she probably already knows how to live a healthy lifestyle.

So she came in this morning. She admitted that she hadn't done any research yet, but she had an outline for her paper.

How can you outline your paper if you haven't done any research UNLESS you already think you know the answer?

She looked at me suspiciously. And didn't quite believe that I didn't think it was good to have an outline before she started researching.

I think I got her to ask a more specific question, one that's related, but that she doesn't already know the answer to. She's uncomfortable with that. It's much easier to write a paper if you already know the answer, of course. But she can do an excellent research paper and learn something in the process if she really goes after answering her question. I have my fingers crossed.

I also have a fairly full day of conferences. I hope this is the only one who doesn't actually have a real question yet.