Sunday, August 31, 2003

Wow, blogger looks different again. As a result, I lost the post I just made!

Yesterday, I found a pretty red-orange maple leaf on the deck. The nearby tree is still green, but the air feels like fall.

The end of summer is bittersweet. I prefer fall, but I don't like to lose the flowers, the garden, and the pool. The insects, on the other hand, will not be missed.

My semester routine starts Tuesday, which I eagerly anticipate and dread, all at the same time.

We put the solar cover on the pool, in an effort to squeeze out a few more weekends of swimming, weather permitting. This was mostly for my benefit, as Bob would swim when it is icy.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

I have my temporary crown. The numbness has not quite worn off. I hope it doesn't bother me when it does. The worst part was the shot in the roof of my mouth. That, and having to wait to go to the bathroom until the procedure was over. That's a downside of a morning appointment for me! It was all I was thinking about as the dentist was telling me no gum, taffy, or tootsie rolls until I get the permanent. Bob was waiting for me and he overheard that part. He said he had to laugh because I never have any of those things, regardless of my teeth. Gum chewing is a major pet peeve of mine. I absolutely, positively hate it!

I have the online syllabus in final, the evening class syllabus in "final draft" and the day class syllabus in draft, so that is progress. I tried to focus on curriculum while the drill was whirling away, without much success. There was too much competition from the the need to pee. So the drill became the distraction!

Tomorrow we go to see Steely Dan at SPAC. It is a long-ish drive for us - from the slightly southern part of the Capital District to the way northern part, and there is the added annoyance of horse racing season up in those parts, but I am still psyched. That's a wonderful place to see a concert, especially if the weather holds. We have inside seats, so it should be OK regardless. I've liked that band since high school, and the new CD is good (not all critics agree, but I was relieved that it sounds a lot like their older stuff).

I am getting a lot - maybe even hundreds - of emails in my university account from that stupid "Re: Thank You," "Your Application," "Wicked Screensaver," "That Movie," etc. bug. If I could find the kid (because I am going to assume that's what he [and now I am going to gender stereotype] is, either in actual age or at least in maturity) who is responsible for this time wasting irritation, I would slap him upside the head.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

The introduction documents for my online course had to be ready by today, so that has been my focus. When not answering emails from new graduate students who need advisement, that is. I can't tell you how many I received yesterday. All I did was type responses suggesting courses, explaining how to register online, commiserating about schedule conflicts and closed classes.

I managed to revise the syllabus and tweak the intro. documents. Usually I give access to the first "Module" of the class as soon as the system allows access, even though classes at the university don't actually begin until after Labor Day. In my latest design, the first Module lasts for two weeks.

This semester, because I still have a lot of thinkin' to do, I am keeping Module 1 closed. Maybe it won't open until the semester formally starts, maybe a few days before that. I still have to revise the syllabus for the evening class, and I haven't created the syllabus for the day class yet. Both of those tasks will impact the final syllabus for the online class, too.

Developing, and even just revising, takes a lot of planning, if you want to do a reasonable job. All three books are out in new editions. I am digesting the comments from last year's student evaluations, I am trying to prevent cheating, get students to learn more and be satisfied, and not drive myself crazy with the workload of evaluating assignments for three classes. Right now, the online class has 29 students, the day class has 30, and the evening class has 14. I'm sure more will be added to the night class during the last minute scramble to register.

My evaluations are high, but there are always one or two constructive remarks (to be taken very seriously) and the occasional really mean comment. Those bother me too, because I don't like to think that some student hates learning, college, the class, or - gasp - me - that much. It's a fantasy to think you can reach everyone, no matter how jaded.

Something about teaching education classes, is that the research, and the subject of your teaching, also informs you on student motivation, what is the best way to deliver content, how learning takes place, etc. So I am constantly getting fired up about making changes to my methods. It would be pretty lame to share ideas about self-directed learning and then spend the entire semester doing nothing but old tried and true chalk and talk, no matter how comfortable and familiar that may be to everyone, including most students.

But on the other hand, there are time constraints involved. It takes a lot of energy, and there are deadlines to be respected. You have to draw the line somewhere. There are also the realities of the classroom. Half the time the equipment and various bells and whistles for slideshows etc. aren't available or don't work properly. Group work, presentations, experiments and other hands-on methods are expected by some and hated by others.

This semester, I am a little sorry to be removing two elements of self-direction. One is that I am going to randomly assign students to groups rather than allowing them to choose. The other is a change I made over the summer, and I was pleased with the results. There will be no term paper. I have increased the number of essays, and I provide the topics to students.

The first change is to cut down on group dysfunction. Some students joined groups based on already established friendships, and these cliques of students took advantage of the other members, who did not know anyone else in their group prior to class. In the end, the clique members evaluated their friends as having performed in an outstanding manner, and the others in the group were given mediocre or poor ratings, in spite of reality - which was that the non-clique members did the majority of the work and were the actual leaders.

The second change is to diminish the chance that the written assignments are plagiarized.

On the other hand, I am hoping to decrease the use of the lecture format, by working closely with the groups in discussion. Although I believe I will have to provide a lot of direction for it to work, I think with the the right instructions, and some structured assignments, I can get the groups to address the educational issues in a meaningful way in class, and maybe get some good dialogue going. It find that it is such a challenge to engage students during class. Discussion is much easier in the online world.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Not sure if I will ever get the chance to catch up here, as I am (too) busy with other things. Tomorrow, Bob's family will be visiting us in S'ville, and I invited some of my family too. I have been saving up the zucchini, and today I am going to make a pan of zucchini parmesan in preparation. Most of the other food will be summer, BBQ-type items. I'll get it ready tonight and tomorrow morning, after we are there. But here is Castleton I have the better stocked kitchen to do something more complex than grill foods and salad.

I am going to have to develop my courses next week. The online one has to be "up" by Tuesday. Then, of course, Thursday will probably be shot because of the morning dentist appointment. Oh, maybe that will be fine, and not ruin the rest of my day. (Trying to be optimistic.) A numb face won't stop me from posting a few Niagara Falls pictures!

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Not catching up but jumping ahead to yesterday...I spent much of the day on campus. The upcoming fall semester is getting to be more than a glimmer, and some activity was starting. I had about 50 emails from that annoying virus, then the firewalls or whatever must have kicked in because most email was delayed until today. What jerks have the time to waste creating these annoying things?

Yesterday morning I went to the dentist for my check up and cleaning. I rarely have problems with my teeth, but over three years ago, when I was working on my dissertation, a few of my right upper molars started to flare up. They hurt when I bit down while eating, it felt like something was caught up there, and there was some in general soreness in that area. I freaked and scheduled an emergency appointment.

The dentist couldn't find anything wrong, and he suggested that I was clenching my teeth a lot. I didn't realize I was doing it, but I thought about it and discovered that I was - awake and asleep. He said I was getting to the age where I have some fissures in the bone, and constantly chomping down when under stress was aggravating them. Eventually, I would probably need to have something more done, but a conservative approach would probably be best until it got more serious. So, he recommended that I simply "stop it."

I really made an effort to stop, and I must have been successful, because it went away. But ever since then, every so often, those teeth bother me again, and I will notice that I have been clenching my teeth. So, I favor that side of my mouth, and try not to clench, and after a few weeks, it goes away.

Until this summer, when it flared up again, but this time a new problem cropped up. That area is cold (especially) and hot sensitive now, and sometimes it hurts when I floss. I have been favoring that side, trying not to clench my teeth, and I switched to toothpaste for sensitive teeth. It isn't bothering me as much when I eat, but it is still wicked cold sensitive. It has been like this since June, and it is driving me crazy.

So, I told the dentist about it again yesterday, and after a little torture (only kidding) he isolated the suspect tooth, which has a large filling in it from when I was a kid, and that filling is acting as a wedge when I bite down. It seems that the future time has arrived, and now I need to have something done. The early approach is to get a crown, and I am scheduled for the first appointment on 8/28. In the slight chance a cap doesn't work, I may also need a root canal at some point, but maybe not.

Monday, August 18, 2003

I'll start with the movie Northfork for my first catch-up post. We started vacation with it, in fact we saw it the same date as this movie review. I agree that the movie is good, worth seeing, even thought-provoking. I think some of the review is on target, but it contains enough inaccuracies and misperceptions that I wonder if he actually watched the film, or just wrote this up from some secondary sources or something.

An obvious inaccuracy, Happy was definitely not mute. And the part about Irwin imagining four angels, then asking "or are they imaginary? They are real for little Irwin, and that should be real enough for us." After watching the movie, I don't see how there can be any doubt the angels were intended to be real, not just existing in the boy's imagination. At the very least this is a misperception, but it still makes me suspect the reviewer did not see the movie.

I think the most irritating "misperception" was this: "one of the subplots involves the need to dig up the bodies in the local cemetery, lest the coffins bob to the surface of the new lake." Yes, it is true there was a subplot having to do with relocating the cemetery, and it was an important part of the story. But I disagree that the significance of this subplot has to do with the macabre idea of coffins emerging on the surface.

Right at the beginning of the movie, there is a frame of a coffin popping up on the water, and later, in one scene of the movie, James Woods' character does make a remark about his late wife being catch of the day if her grave isn't moved. These two moments are overshadowed by the many scenes at the cemetery that have nothing to do with coffins appearing on the water. The reviewer focusing on that as the reason for relocating the cemetery misses the point entirely.

Losing a town is sad. Eminent domain does not create "a burial ground of foolish human dreams" (Ebert, 2003) but instead a watery grave for a special place that existed the past.

The movie made me think of the Ashokan Reservoir. The construction of that water supply happened nearly 100 years ago but you don't have to do much digging to find resentment over the loss of the Esopus Valley among local residents.

At the Mt. Pleasant Rural Cemetery, which was founded at that time, our records indicate that $15 was paid by New York City for disinterment, and an additional $3 for moving a headstone. According to The Last of the Handmade Dams (Steuding, 1985), 2,720 bodies were moved from nearly 40 cemeteries. About 368 remains were unknown or unclaimed, and they were moved to new West Shokan, in what is now called Bushkill Cemetery.

My brother and his family live right next door to the rows of 12-inch by 12-inch bluestone markers, which bear only the initials of the original cemetery and a serial number for identification.

In addition, over 100 bodies could not be located, and so were not removed. They now are under the water of the reservoir, and as far as I know, there have been no reports of coffins bobbing to the surface in the past 86 years.

Wow. That is the longest break I have taken from making posts here since I started this in March 2002. Not that I didn't have ideas, when I did either the Internet wasn't convenient, or I had other priorities.

This summer, the university switched to PeopleSoft, and now faculty can enter grades online. No more handing in bubble forms at the last minute, after the Registrar has closed, at Public Safety! But just as I was about to submit grades on Thursday (the deadline, of course), "Northeast unplugged." Friday morning, power restored, I snap on my network (I have a little two-computer arrangement, could that drain be the straw that broke the camel’s back? But I kept most lights and other unnecessary appliances off, though, just to be a good citizen) and the two machines operate very nicely independently, but there are no network drives, no printing, and no Internet.

Five hours and many iterations of “Restart,” “Skip this step,” “Uninstall,” “Add new hardware” later, it was nothing more serious than corrupt drivers and I was back in business at home. The university, however, was not. I guess that stupid Blaster virus followed by the power failure was too much.

Off to Samsonville (where two recent power outages meant the contents of the refrigerator/freezer hit the garbage) for the weekend. Meaning that back in Castleton this morning, all systems seem to be working everywhere, and I finally submitted the grades!

As the semester draws closer, advisement has started to pick up. I will be teaching three sections of class this Fall, and so soon I will have to get started preparing. But during the next two weeks, there will be a few days just for writing. So I'll start to catch up.

The garden is producing. I think the yield of cucumbers and zucchini will be fine this year, but the beans and tomatoes are off. The plants look good, but too much rain, not enough sun, who knows what else. I am starting to get ripe tomatoes, finally, though.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Back from vacation. The only computing I managed was checking email, and since Friday I didn't even do that. Needless to say, I didn't finish the grades! My deadline is the 14th.

Sometimes it's good to take a break.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Today is the last day of class. Summer session, aside from the hectic pace, is so much more enjoyable than the regular semesters. I think I have learned a few things from the past two spring semesters' cheating episodes, also. This was mostly a good section of class. There are always more "incompletes" in the summer, but that is preferable to minimal efforts, failures, disappearances, and plagiarizers.

I have one batch of essays, one discussion, and one round of journals to evaluate, then I can tally end of semester grades. I'm happy I stayed on top of it. Bob is starting his vacation, and we are headed to Samsonville, which means dial-up, so if I wasn't caught up that would be a disaster. The forecast is lots of rain, but he needs the time off, regardless. If we can't swim, we'll work on the house. That's how we spend most vacations anyway.

The garden is just beginning to produce.

The Chronicle of Higher Education asked five faculty members at various colleges what is on their summer reading list. (Unfortunately, the online article is only available to subscribers.) Three of the five listed, among other thing, the latest Harry Potter book. The Chronicle also runs a list of what is being read on college campuses (based on campus bookstore sales) and Harry Potter is there, too. I wonder what it is about those of us who always feel somewhat outside of the "mainstream?" Not that college faculty or people who shop at campus bookstores are the mainstream, probably they aren't. So I guess what I am wondering is, what is it about some of us who feel outside of both the mainstream and the non-mainstream? I don't mean in some weird, fringe kind of way - hey, my life is pretty mainstream in many ways, maybe most ways - but in embracing, appreciating, understanding certain elements of popular culture, like Harry Potter mania (or, even more absurd, reality show obsession), or being surgically attached to cell phones. I don't know. Maybe it's me.