Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I always spend some time reflecting on my classes once the semester is over. Something I notice in the toleration class is that there are students (seems to be quite a few, although this is anecdotal and I haven't counted them up based on writing or discussion) who hold two positions that disturb me: 1) a belief in ethical relativism (which little understanding or distinction between the subjective or conventional forms) and 2) paying lip service in support of, but having very little respect for free speech. Many of these students want to have it both ways - they insist they are tolerant but at the same time believe in censorship, and they are uncomfortable with examples of relativism's dilemmas (ie, slavery, Nazis, infanticide) but hold fast to the "everything's relative" mantra, personally and/or societally.

Since many of the students in the toleration class are freshmen, I have suspected that they don't really understand the relativism / objectivism debate, are not familiar with the (valid) historical origins of relativism, don't truly comprehend the meaning of political tolerance, and are confused about social and moral tolerance. But even after several classes on the subject, on the midterm some students continue to argue positions they can't logically defend.

Now I do my best to be "vanilla" in my classes. I've never been someone who respects when teachers and professors push their opinions on students. I select the materials and let students make up their own minds. I have to admit, though, that these two positions I detect nearly every semester in at least a few students bother me.

I've read (on the Internet) assertions that this is coming from K-12 schools (and colleges) pushing an agenda. I have a hard time believing that is what is responsible for it. Not that I think agenda-pushing is absent from schools (and higher ed institutions), just that I am not sure how effective it is. Blame is sometimes assigned to teaching multiculturalism and even on classes such as my toleration course. (The latter is amusing and demonstrates the same ignorance these students have with understanding what the word actually means.)

Full disclosure: I support teaching some level of diversity and multiculturalism. However, when I solicit student input on how much multicultural curricula and methods they have experienced, although nearly every student has been exposed, it is limited to food festivals and fairs about an array of individual (and usually non-threatening) cultures. Any sort of deep immersion is very, very rare - practically nonexistent until college, and even there it is usually through solitary electives. Finally - toleration especially but multiculturalism also do not automatically equal ethical relativism and reduced free speech.

So I am not sure that schools (and colleges) can be the primary cause.

I think it has more to do with just general societal attitudes and misunderstanding. It isn't just schools or colleges. It's everywhere, and I believe stronger and more influential in media (for example) than in academe.
Here is my photo tribute to Edna.

Monday, December 28, 2009

This is a picture of Edna when she was young. She died at 10:15 am on Saturday, December 26. She was at least 17 years old. She was a full-grown stray back in October 1993 when we took her in. She'd been living on Main Street for a couple of months, and Richie had been feeding her. He convinced me to take the beautiful cat who was always sitting on the front steps of his restaurant when we ate there. He said, that cat will never survive the winter. She wasn't wild cat material. I wrestled with the decision for a couple of weeks before going there one night, picking her up and telling her "sweetheart, this is your lucky day." I'd always liked cats, but never had one, and even now, I'm still more of a dog person.

Edna could turn you into a cat person, though. She was a Maine Coon Cat, beautiful, friendly and sweet. She had long hair and enormous green eyes. Not once in her life did she do something bad. At that time, I had two elderly dogs -- Howie and Penny -- and I wasn't sure how they would handle a cat. For two weeks I kept her on the front porch, and then slowly introduced her to inside. At first, when I wasn't home, I kept her in the office, which is the room I am in right now. Then we let her have free run, and there was never a problem with either of the dogs. She didn't scratch them, and they didn't chase her.

After Howie died, Edna was very upset. Then we adopted Rudy; she had to put up with an active puppy, which she did with great patience. Eventually, Rudy and Edna became great friends, and when he died she mourned him very deeply. After Penny died, we adopted Sophie -- who has never bothered cats at all, she's be a "0" on the cat reactive scale that shelters use. But four years ago, when we adopted Sam after Rudy died, once again Edna had to raise a puppy. Two years ago, she had to accept Ande - and she did. He loved her, and she tolerated, maybe even lukewarm liked - him.

Even as a young cat, she only rarely played, and when she did, it was always with a rubber band or twist tie - cat toys didn't interest her. She was a big, dignified cat. She didn't like cat treats, but she loved regular people food - even chicken parmesan - and barbeque potato chips. She only liked fish flavored cat food. A few years ago, after the pet food tragedy, I switched her to Wellness (could do an ad for them!). It had to be from the tiny 3 oz. cans - she wouldn't touch it if it was scooped from a larger can. (I even tried fooling her by using a small can as a "cookie cutter," but she didn't buy it.)

She loved salmon, the kind that comes in a foil pouch. She also loved tuna, but I didn't give it to her often, due to the mercury. She never required grooming or nail cutting until she was quite old. She rode loose in the car (but often got car sick). She went outside nearly every day in the good weather, and occasionally in the winter, never went too far from the house, and came when she was called. She was able to jump quite high until just a few weeks ago.

She got a few mice in her lifetime (and a chipmunk over the summer!), and years ago, one bird (the only time I was truly mad at her). She spent most of her time in the kitchen, rarely venturing into other rooms of the house, especially in recent years. I let her get on the table, and that became her favorite place.

She declined gradually for the past few months, and then more dramatically for the past month. She was quite sick for a week before she died. I suspect she had cancer, since the tests she had on Tuesday didn't show kidney or heart problems...they showed anemia. She had lost weight - went down from nearly 13 pounds to just under 9. It wasn't easy to tell because she was so fluffy. Her last night was not pleasant, although except for a couple of episodes and the last five minutes, she was comfortable. Ande spent several hours laying right beside her, it was very sweet of him. She died in front of the fireplace in Samsonville. We had spent the night on our sofabed, so we could be near her all night.

On Saturday afternoon, we buried her next to Rudy. There was a snow cover and it was a drizzly day, but we managed. Back home in Castleton, the house seems so odd, the kitchen in particular. She was always there - on the table - begging for the food she loved to eat. What a sweetheart she was; that October day back in 1993 was not just her lucky day, but mine.

Ande is very upset. I suppose he will adjust eventually, but it is hard to handle. Because of her age - how much longer can you expect a cat to live, even one who has had a remarkably healthy life? - it isn't as difficult to accept, plus I didn't want her to suffer, but it still is very, very sad. How I will miss her! RIP my dear Edna. I won't forget you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I finished grades an hour before the deadline. The Fall 2009 semester is officially over! Yay!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

If you're in California - these 63 young, female Basset Hounds were recently rescued and need homes.

Update: I don't believe anyone who truly "loves dogs" could write this.

Another update: The "dog lover" in the above update wrote: "I’m annoyed when dining at people’s houses if their dog is permitted to pester while we eat." I wanted to comment (but didn't, as it didn't seem polite): Oh yeah? Not that it matters since you will never have the pleasure of dining at my house, but not only will my dogs pester, they will LICK THE PLATES after we're done. And then I will put the dishes BACK IN THE CABINET. Added bonus, it really saves the planet - I'm so green. So there.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I wanted to write something about Christmas last night when I posted the picture of the tree, but it was late so I decided it would keep. It still should be keeping (the clock is not quite ticking on end of semester grades, but it will be soon enough). But I can't resist. A couple of unexpected tasks surfaced today anyway, so I decided to take care of them and get back to grades tomorrow.

I remember my mother telling me that Aunt Dot calls her Christmas ornament box her "box of memories." On Saturday it struck me that mine is too. With the smaller tree I could really enjoy selecting each one and reflecting on how long we've had it and where it came from. The angel my mother made, the basket my sister made, the downtown Albany collectible series, the handmade ones for each animal, from the Empire Plaza craft fairs. The three Avon ornaments, the mice Santas that I've had since childhood and were a gift from Aunt Dot, the needlepoint Santa that Davine made.

We haven't decorated in Samsonville yet, and won't until we go there for Christmas. But I know there is another box of treasures waiting for me.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The boy scouts cut it for us yesterday. I think it might be the smallest tree we've ever had. I love it, minimum disruption, it fits well in the small space of the livingroom. It's the first time in several years that we haven't gotten a scotch pine.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

We got more snow. It was a big storm that they under predicted. I cleaned off the vehicles and a little in front of the door, but this time, it is worth getting someone else to do the rest.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Lots of people point the finger at research in social science or education and profess skepticism (or even hostility) but an awful lot embrace natural science or medical research more easily - because the data and methods are not "soft." I am generally pretty skeptical, even of so-called "scientific" research, including medical. (See my post about educational technology; as an undergraduate, I told a history professor "technology kills me" and he proceeded to write it on the board the next class to spark discussion.) So the recent controversies about climate change, the hackers, and the suspicious emails and data don't shock me.

How many cases of dishonesty can you cite? Just give it a moment's thought. In my class that covers academic dishonesty, I ask students to consider all the things that have been in the news in the not-too-distant past: corporate corruption (insider stock trading & employee/retiree pension squandering); government corruption; sexual abuse by clergy, school personnel and others with access to children; plagiarism and fabrication by news reporters and writers; increased reports of cheating by students; fabrication of scientific evidence by researchers; violations of fair play, as well as crimes etc. in athletics; theft of public funds by school district officials; falsifying assessment data by teachers and administrators; and medical and legal malpractice. (List adapted from University of Michigan Center for Ethics in Public Life.)

This doesn't raise to the level of many of those scandals, but it does speak to how common (at best) incompetence, and (at worst) fabrication can be in widely accepted (and respected) research. In 2000 or 2001, I attended a conference where the keynote speaker was a man presenting on student learning styles. I’d never given the subject much thought, and in fact, did not really study the issue myself until several years later, after I started teaching. But the presentation that day really captured my interest. He was a very dynamic speaker. I remember he spoke a great deal about the ways students learn, and the proportions they retain, based on each way. Something that stood out was that he asserted that students don’t remember as much from some approaches, and retain a lot from others. Things such as reading and listening were very low on the retention scale, while drawing or speaking were higher. He even illustrated this point on a flip chart.

A few years later, after I started teaching, I was interested in what he presented for two reasons: first, when thinking about various assignments in my classes, and second, because in one of my classes we study educational philosophy and psychology. Over the years I remembered the presentation, and did some research to see if I could find anything in the literature to support his points. I was never able to find what it may have been based on when I searched. Then, a few years ago, when I was working on material about learning styles and online learning, I made a major effort again to see if I could find anything related to what he had presented that day, and finally I landed on it.

What he presented was based on “Dale’s Cone of Experience,” from 1946. It depicts learning from concrete to abstract and was the first to attempt to describe the connection between educational theory and technology (specifically, audio-visual). Computers weren’t around so this means radio, movies, television, etc.

Here is the original cone:

Dale, E. (1946, 1954, 1969). Audio-visual methods in teaching. New York: Dryden.

At some point, proportions were assigned to the various approaches, just as I remembered from the dynamic speaker at that conference nearly 10 years ago. Problem is, there is no evidence to support the proportions; although they are frequently attributed to Dale, he never suggested we retain 10 percent of abstract approaches and 90 percent of concrete approaches. He never implied one approach was better than another. However, the proportions continue to crop up in papers, websites, presentations, etc. I think it sounds “anecdotally good” to us, that hands-on approaches such as internships result in more retention of material than listening to lecture or reading a book, that watching a DVD is somewhere in the middle. But there is no data to back this up.

Here is a version of the cone with proportions:

A number of sources de-bunk the proportions, document how widespread citing the proportions remains, trace where the proportions originated, and this one does all three.

Not one person at the conference challenged the presenter. I wish I knew more at the time, so that I could have done so. It would have added a bit of spice to the Chicken ala Marriott! What is funny to me is that I so distinctly remember his presentation, yet did not speak, take notes, draw, watch a video, or present. (So much for only retaining 20 percent of what I hear.)

Unrelated: It did snow on Saturday, maybe 3 inches. I shoveled! One more thing Bob can't do. It wasn't enough snow to make getting someone else to do it worthwhile. With our new, pristine sidewalks, it wasn't so bad.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Fence is fixed, classes are done, grades are due 12/21 - and the "feel" of snow is in the air.

We've been playing doorman. Apparently, not having a fence for a few days really made the dogs appreciate having a yard!

Sitting here with Ande in my lap. Makes it very hard to type...

Monday, November 30, 2009

The fence will be fixed by Wednesday, yay!
I've always found Empire Plaza to be arrestingly utopian.

Update: This got me thinking about when I first started working in Albany, in November 1985. I’d blown off my job in NYC in April of that year. Couldn’t face another summer in the city. I worked at a variety of temp jobs in Westchester County that summer and fall. I wanted to go to graduate school but didn’t see a way to afford it, what with rent, commutation, etc. Must have been Veteran’s Day when I impulsively got the idea to go to Albany and check it out. I’d visited many times before, for elementary school museum trips or holiday shopping at Colonie Center, the only mall around, but it had been years since my last visit, and I’m not sure I’d ever walked around downtown or seen the campus. Bob was agreeable - it had been his idea to go to NYC and now it was my turn. I remember “We Built This City” was a popular song on the radio that had just come out and it was playing when we drove on 787, with the fabulous view of Empire Plaza and nearby buildings. I always associate that song with the Plaza when it is lit up at night. Funny.

We liked what we saw, and started looking for apartments. Not an easy task with two dogs! That night we slept in the car in a Grand Union parking lot and the following day we found a decrepit little bungalow that seemed like paradise. We were moved within a couple of weeks, and went to work finding jobs. I got a temp position at the NYS Office for Aging, at Empire Plaza. The weekend before I was to start we had tickets to see Cats on Broadway in NYC. (One of the few shows I’ve ever hated.) My brother had treated us, we were taking his twins to celebrate their 16th birthday. I got back to the Capital District from that trip only shortly before my temp job began. I changed my clothes in the bathroom of Dunkin’ Donuts on Lark Street and traipsed off to find the Plaza. I asked a passerby which one was Agency Building 2?

My supervisor at that job taught me to use Lotus 1-2-3, as I mention in this post. Knowing the software opened a lot of doors for me! A temp salary in the Capital District goes a lot farther than in NYC. We were able to figure out what we planned to do with our lives, get better jobs, go to graduate school, buy a car and a house. Yes, Albany has been good to me - and that humble job in Empire Plaza was just the beginning.
When we got back to Castleton, the clocks were blinking. The power was out for 5 hours, or 17 or 29...not sure. It must have been very windy. Sam went out in the yard, and when I went to let him in, I noticed that four fence sections were down. Sam was gone! It was dark and we couldn't see him, but after a few minutes of panic, he came when Bob called him. It's been years since we didn't have a fenced yard, I hope we can find someone to fix it fast!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I have been asked about online discussion, and online teaching in general in the past, and I have formulated some thoughts on the subject.

My history with technology

Back in high school, although mainframes and terminals were used to print our schedules and grades, the average person wasn't using computers and there were no PCs. In college, geeks may have studied programming (ie, basic, cobol, etc.), we had to submit typewritten papers [where you had to throw out the page and type it over when you made a typo], I typed papers on my high school graduation present Smith Corona for $1 per page, and I hated technology.

After college, Lotus 1-2-3 debuted, businesses bought one PC for each office, and I learned how to work a spreadsheet. In graduate school, I spent many late hours of my first year in the computer lab, and for the second year, bought my first home computer - a 286. In my job in administration during the early & mid '90s, I became known as the resident computer expert, and email replaced the phone (and I was thrilled. I hate phones, all of them - but cell phones especially. I don't want to be contacted everywhere. There is some technology I still hate! I got a Blackberry in February, but I use it exclusively for email. I don’t give out the number, or answer it if it does ring, or check the voice mail.).

In the PhD program, distance learning was in its infancy - amazing to take a class with a cohort at a distance connected to us via real-time video and audio - there were many freezes and the audio was terrible - but we felt like pioneers. Today you can whip out your desktop camera, record yourself, and post it to youtube! Now the Internet is everywhere. Wireless is at cabins in the woods. And since 2000, I have been an "early adopter," as an instructor in the online world. A lot has changed for me since the late '70s!

My relationship with educational technology today

I have taught online since 2000, during summer session since 2001, on campus during the evening since 2002 and daytime since 2003. I have been a "telecommuter" since 2000 - this was true even at my last non-teaching 9-5 job, although since 2003, during the academic year, I spend two days per week on campus. But the rest of the time, I do my work via the 'net with only computers and animals for companions - and in the summer I work 100% from home, teaching only one online class (and doing advising of graduate students via email).

The importance of instructor presence in online classes

In the discussions, I do read the posts, but I very rarely jump in. I will if it is getting really out of hand, with flames, silliness, rude behavior, etc., and I have had to do this on occasion. (Not for the past several semesters, though.) Sometimes I will if I notice that I am being asked a direct question, also. I set the topic and rules, and then I allow students to manage the flow on their own. In the group-led discussions that are a part of the regular semester length class during the Fall and Spring semesters, I always post something in answer to the group's questions. (There is no time for group work in the 6W2 summer class.)

I have found that when I involve myself in the regular discussion too much, it tends to stifle students to some degree. That may not always be true, but there is some tendency. On the other hand, student comments indicate that satisfaction with online learning increases when the instructor is at least somewhat active. So, in terms of general feedback, I give all students a status update twice, I do the same thing with final grades, I try to give helpful comments on essays, and I write feedback to the whole class every module. I rarely react to journal entries, but sometimes I do. (Some semesters I have reacted to many journal posts - particularly during summer session, when I have a lot more time.)

I notice many online students comment that they did not know me or others in the class, that they did not feel a sense of community, and that they felt very much on their own. I also note a difference in my class evaluations – it seemed students in my on campus sections give more positive evaluations than online students. This remark isn’t at all humble, but what the heck: in all of my classes, whether online or on campus, my student evaluations are very high – 4 point something, often very close to 5. This is the highest in my department, in fact – and it is something for which I am very proud. So I don’t like that the online class generally comes in slightly lower.

I always answer "Ask A Question" posts and email as soon as I notice them. In recent semesters, I have been scheduling real time chats every so often, and including audio lecture – also efforts to increase class community. Research from the SUNY Learning Network indicates that for students, instructor feedback is one element that increases satisfaction with the course. I think most online professors try to give as much feedback as possible, given the time constraints of the delivery method. I check the course almost every day; sometimes it is difficult over the weekends because I spend many of them away from the Capital District (this hasn't been true this fall). I would love to respond to everything, to interact with students much more than I do, but this course takes a lot of time already. Any time I must make changes to the material - I try to stay current and tweak the assignments, and I make revisions every semester, before and during it - I have to set aside a big chunk of time. During the academic year, I have two on campus sections and the online class, a responsibility to the students I advise in the graduate programs, and one section of a different class.

In 2008 I converted the online component of my on campus classes from WebCT to Blackboard, and this online class from SUNY Learning Network/Lotus Notes to UAlbany/Blackboard, which was very!! time consuming. I am an adjunct (the horror!), and so I wear a lot of hats, but full-time faculty have different demands - research, committee memberships, conferences, etc.

Except for Summer 2007 (maybe because it was twelve weeks, or because it started right after the Spring semester ended), the summer class size tends to be larger, and I take on freelance projects for professional development, and to guarantee a cash flow. Plus in the summer there are the garden and pool...and last summer Lyme Disease (this summer and fall, Bob’s illness, my sprained ankle and my recent H1N1).

Do I feel isolated from students?

Do I get to know students using this method?: yes, it is not really different than on campus. I am an instructor that tends to get to know my students rather well. I keep my class sizes to 30 or less, that helps. I work at being approachable, without pretending that I am somehow "hip" (sure, I think I am, but students almost never think a late 40s professor is :-). But I always get to know a few students better than others regardless of the method of delivery; on campus a handful of students participate in class, and talk to me at break, or come to my office, linger after class, or send me email messages, but the vast majority keep to themselves. Apart from responding "here" when I call their name for attendance (yes, in the on campus sections that counts) there are always some who rarely speak. Sometimes I remark that I know their faces, and the online students' names!

Schedule may be more important than delivery method - I see my on campus day class students twice per week; often I feel I know them better than students in the night class. One could argue that I get to know my students better in the online world than face-to-face simply because of the discussion being always available, required and evaluated. Discussion is one area where the online world shines, in my opinion.

Class size makes a big difference, too. There have been semesters when the online class was small, when I got to know students better "electronically." (I think Summer Session 2007 class is an example; it was only 12 students and it was awesome.) When students take more than one class with me, I tend to get to know them better than their peers, regardless of the delivery method.

I do think students get to know each other better on campus. I am always thinking of changes to the group-led and student-led activities for this reason, even though I know the majority of online learners favor independent, self-directed learning and are not fans of group work. (But building class community is beneficial, and research strongly supports group assignments as being valuable.)

This semester, the online class is 21 students, and the two on campus sections are 29 each. In general, my classes are usually 25-35 students. The largest section I have taught was 43 (Summer ‘09); the smallest was Summer ‘07, at 12. I have not had a class that I would consider somewhat unsuccessful since Spring 2006, when the day class was very engaged, the night class not so much. It varies by section, and by semester, although I believe I am getting better at being an instructor - I've been at this 9 years and I am still having fun and learning. I am reflecting right now on how the change to Blackboard has altered the dynamics. Some things are better, and other things are not.

The power of discussion

In the online class, students must participate. Discussion is always focused and on topic. In my experience, students in the classroom as a whole do not participate as much in discussion. There are always a few students on campus who really liven up class, of course. And the number grows during the semester as the atmosphere becomes more comfortable. We have group activities that are intended to stimulate in-class discussion. Although my classes are probably more participatory than the average college class, to be honest, the results are mixed. Most students do talk to each other during the group, but when the time to report out comes, there are always dominant students, and silent students. (Possibly the group talked about going to happy hour, and not the class material :-). Seriously, most are just shy, but some of them come to class unprepared, and that is the reason for their silence. (I think not doing the assigned reading is more common in the on campus sections.)

For the past several semesters, I have been very lucky (or else, as I already mentioned, it is that I am getting better at facilitation after 9 years of teaching), in that all of my classes have been more participatory than usual. I have taken a lesson from my online approach, and now I emphasize on campus students and groups asking questions of peers on the material I have outlined, as much or more than responding to my queries. In some classes, students participate a lot, and I do not have to prod or make that many comments myself. In other classes, the students do not seem all that engaged, and I believe there is an excessive amount of teacher talk (sort of like now :-). Sometimes I even wind up hoarse! Or they scowl, hoping if they are silent I will let the class out early, or drift off into text messaging, thinking I won't notice (I am not kidding).

In fact, some of my on campus students react in the online discussion I have set up in BLS more than they do during class, but using BLS as a companion for on campus classes is no match for this completely online class. (I do think BLS has been an improvement over WebCT in this respect.) Also, a few of the on campus students are Luddites, and really dislike that I assign BLS, or anything that requires the computer, except word processing.

I assign a journal to students in the on campus sections too. It is a way for me to get to know my students (and it is my favorite assignment), and after I read the journals I find I remember student names - but it is also to teach students the value of reflecting, and to practice writing.

Learning styles and online learning

It is true that online learning is not everyone's cup of tea. Independent, self-directed learners prefer it, it makes life easier for those with difficult schedules or who live a distance from campus, and students who are shy about speaking in front of others often find their voice via electronic discussion. On the other hand, students who like the immediacy of the classroom, the nuances of body language, the reminders, pointers and reassurances about assignments, miss the classroom.

This is anecdotal, but interesting - in my experience, the range of students in the online class is very wide. During summer session, the students tend to be very strong, for the most part. I speculate that students who attend classes in the summer are among the best students in the university - whether on campus or online. However, often during the academic year, but in the summer too (when in the larger sections I usually get a few students who are taking the class solely because they failed something in their college career, and need something, anything, to graduate - they are always either extremely motivated, or just plain awful) it is in the online class where I have found both the strongest, and the weakest students. The strongest students make my job very easy, they bring so much insight and energy to every topic. I wonder about the weak students, if perhaps they expected the class to be a piece of cake, for some reason do not drop it when the unpleasant reality sets in, and instead are not making much effort, or if they are good students in the classroom, but are just in over their heads with the online format - or if they are weak students in general, and are aiming to squeak by with a D-.

Plagiarism and online learning

One other drawback that I have found over the years is that plagiarism has been more common in the online section. It isn't completely absent on campus either, sadly, but it is almost epidemic in the online class. I find at least one student per year. Whether cheating is something that has always existed to the degree I have encountered it, or if it has been facilitated by the Internet, or a lack of absolutes in terms of morality and ethics in modern society, or the focus on getting a piece of paper and a job rather than learning, or careless professors who do not check or let offending students get away with a light penalty, I do not know.
But in the 15 or so times I have discovered plagiarized essays, 85% of them have been in the online class. Perhaps the anonymous nature makes it more tempting, perhaps the stern nature of my remarks to the class in the opening lecture on campus are taken more seriously, perhaps being online so much with the seductive cheathouse.com and other such vendors just a few clicks away makes it easier? (But if it is the last one that is confusing because on campus students do a lot of work on the computer as well, with all those same temptations.)

The recorded audio remarks about academic dishonesty that I posted a couple of semesters ago in the course introduction do seem to be helping (or at least since I created them, I have not found a cheater - could be an oversight on my part, or a coincidence).

My hybrid class experience

In the Spring of 2008, I experimented with having the evening section be a hybrid: that is, half online, half in the classroom. I expected it to be the best of both worlds, but instead it seemed to turn out to be the worst of both worlds. I did not find it satisfying. The students liked it better than I did, although they complained a lot about how confused they were (and in the end reported that they learned a lot). I decided not to do it again, although the experience made me more flexible in my teaching, in that it allowed me to better handle when I must occasionally cancel a class. Now I go ahead and do it, with minimal disruption, by requiring some online work instead. Snow or feeling under the weather suddenly became no problem.


The possibilities suggested by Second Life…whether online students are more engaged than on campus students (NYT, Chronicle)...whether learning styles impact who likes and dislikes online learning...whether communications technology disrupts the power balance in schools and is resisted as a result (Hodas)...the negative impact of television watching on infants...whether on campus classes are "sensuous" experiences that cannot be replicated on the computer (Kelly)...what Dewey would have thought of the Internet (Kelly)...Dale's cone of experience...the idea of a basic skills erosion due to technology is interesting (Jeynes). Can cashiers make change any more without the help of the cash register? Can we write coherently without spell check? Can we remember a fact without Google? Somewhat related - is technology changing communication entirely? Think about texting. Didn't we used to get together with friends in person to chat? Do we really need to ring up our significant other when we are in the market to ask whether we need salad dressing and if so, what kind? What happened to making a list, or an independent judgment about such trivia?

To sum it all up

I find the intrusion of texting and cell phones annoying in classrooms, but as with so many technological changes, we can't simply wring our hands and complain, or make one more autocratic rule. We have to find new, innovative ways to harness its power. Technology is merely a tool. And it isn't going away. How we put it to use in a positive way is the question.

Whatever the differences, in my opinion the learning outcomes of the various sections of the class are similar, regardless of the delivery method, or the semester. This is supported by student grades, which show the same basic distribution.

Update: Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pioneer sent a sheet with the winners names for the pie contest, and the recipe from the guy who won first place. Yes, a guy won. The recipe is totally bogus, no doubt he bought a pie at Grandma's and made up the recipe. Must have been Affirmative Action at work in pie baking! Things that jumped out: he only used 2 T of shortening for the crust, and he didn't mix in the sugar and spices - just dumped them in separately on top of the apples after they were in the bottom crust! Also the apples are listed as the orchard name, "Bowman," no specific type. So Red Delicious would be fine? C'mon.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

What a heartbreaking story. I'm so glad she is going to be OK. She's precious. Beagles are my favorite breed of dog (although I always take whatever is there at the pound). What scum did such a thing? I hope they burn in hell.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I didn't win!

They only got 42 entries. The criteria were appearance, flavor/taste, filling, crust. A woman just ahead of me at the registration desk said they were still taking entries and she had only enrolled yesterday (even though the rules said you had to mail in the form by last Saturday). Her pie looked absolutely awful. She had glued red food-coloring distorted heart shapes to cover up holes in the top and the crust on one side was crumbled. I think it was in a glass dish and was a 10", both also rules violations. Her pie was picked for the finals, I don't know how delicious it would have had to have been to have made up for the point loss on appearance. Another rules violation, there were several Dutch apples, at least three, and I think all of them made the finals. Several of the early numbers that got into the finals were clearly Pillsbury crusts, they were perfect and beautiful-looking, like Mrs. Smith's or you had bought them at a bakery.

When they called the numbers, it went something like this: 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 20, 30, 37. I didn't go in during the judging, but Bob did for a short time. He said four teams of two were tasting the pies and they were up to the teens, so I guess they went in order. There was an advantage in getting one of the low numbers (I was 22). When Bob went in they were cutting slices for the judges. He said they were working on a lattice-top pie that was so hard they could barely cut it. They did not sample a full piece of mine, but instead seem to have eaten it right out of the tin, wedge of top crust only and a few apples, leaving the bottom crust and most apples intact. I guess once they hit seven, they saw they were only at number 12, were getting full (4 teams would have to eat 10-11 slices each?), had 30 more pies to taste, figured they needed to pick a few higher numbers, and just quickly tasted the remaining pies right in the tins?

I'm also thinking that if they allowed rules violations on so many things - maybe they also allowed it on filling, and some of the pies were apple walnut, etc.

Anyway - we got the Swine Flu pie back and Sophie was so happy when we got home! Of course the dogs had to have all the parts of the pie near where the judge stuck a fork in it. (Eww.) I had a piece to be sure my judgment wasn't off and concluded that it is one of my best pies ever. Even Mimmie would have approved, I think.

I had a good time yesterday baking, feeling better, thinking of Mimmie. Also, it's a nice area up there at the orchard - my first trip out of the house since Tuesday. The weather was nice so it wasn't too bad. Not doing it next year though!

Friday, November 06, 2009

I came down with the flu on Tuesday night. I developed an odd cough. I was in denial until Wednesday, but it was hard to ignore the fever (at times 101.7). I had only one other symptom, a headache.

It's no wonder, many students in my classes have it.

I basically slept for two days straight. Today my fever is gone!

I must have had a mild case. I've had many colds that were worse. I am not sure if that is due to my age (it hits younger people harder) or if the panic is way overblown.

I thought I might wind up missing the apple pie contest, but today I baked my entry and a spare.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ten years ago today, Penny died. I remember it was election day, a Tuesday. She was a sweetheart, a grand little old lady of over 16 years, a black miniature poodle that we got as a companion for Howie. She adored him, and sadly, the last 4 years of her life, after he died, were not as happy or carefree as the first 12. I've never seen two dogs who loved each other more. RIP Penny Poodily.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Today I registered to be in an apple pie contest on 11/7 sponsored by a local bank, at an orchard. It is open to 50 contestants, and all must be amateurs over age 17. The apples have to be "real" but the crust can be store bought! How lame! Naturally, I will be making it all from scratch, using this recipe. First prize is $450, and 10 runners up will get $50 each. I think I can win!

I have had an account on facebook for a long time, but only recently started to use it. I was skeptical, but it is fun. I downloaded the "app" for my blackberry so I can easily access it from there, too.

My classes are humming along. I'm behind in assessment (what else is new?) but overall they are going great. Next week is presentation week in all the on campus sections. I get to sit and just be a spectator! Early in the semester I joked (to myself) that I should whip out the b'berry during the presentations of groups with the most egregious texting violators. But in reality I would never do that. Also so many students have smart phones on their desks during class that I have decided to accept it as part of modern culture. It is as common as a notebook, and there is no use fighting it.

One other thing that seems to have accelerated this semester is the number of students who use my first name without asking me. Not just to my face (where maybe it could be explained by my having a hard to pronounce last name?), but in emails as well (is that because I have a hard to spell last name?). I don't think that is it, I think it is more a combination of modern times (again) and my personality with students (open and easy going). I don't think it makes me a snob or unapproachable to prefer to be called Professor or Dr. I've never indicated that I didn't mind the use of my first name, and on the syllabus and the first day of class, I make it clear that I use Dr. But like the smart phones, I ignore the familiarity, except sometimes in email I respond by appending PhD to my name.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Even though I have many other things to do and the deadline isn't until 1/30 - I couldn't resist. I trimmed my story to 1200 words as they requested, and sent it to Kaatskill Life. Watch for it in the "Kaatskill Sketches" section of the Spring issue.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My story, "It's a Wonder We Didn't Get Drownded" will appear in the Spring 2010 edition of Kaatskill Life!

Yesterday we went to Cooperstown to visit Hyde Hall. This is the view from the front of the house of Otsego Lake. Afterwards we went to Brooks' BBQ.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When the sidewalk was redone during the summer, it was about a foot above the old one and as a result, we have a major step down all around. Our trash can sits on a little deck on the side of the house, and was impossible for me to haul up to the new sidewalk on garbage day. So, here is the new little deck that was finished yesterday.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Our front door's condition had really deteriorated lately. Most significantly, it was completely out of alignment, needed to be re-glued, and dragged so bad it was nearly impossible to open. It must be over 100 years old (the house is about 107), and has magnificient hardware - the hinges in particular are stunning. So here it is - restored and in all its glory!

Coincidentally, yesterday the village poured a new stoop from the door to the sidewalk. That's the end of their street renovation project.

All this improvement makes the trim needing to be painted all the more obvious, though! Next Spring, we'll have to have the flower beds on either side of the house raised to be level with the new sidewalk. But maybe we'll be able to get the painting done before then.

Unrelated: On Friday, I was talking to a woman who asked me what I did for a living, and when I responded, she asked me what I taught. Her reaction: "I don't mean to be offensive, but isn't that just bullshit?"

Friday, October 02, 2009

I decided to write a post here on this subject rather than a direct comment. I have to react to two aspects of this post.

First, on the writing skills of students: I think five years ago, I would have agreed with the post completely. However, for the past few semesters I have noticed an improvement in the quality of my students. Granted, I have been teaching 9 years, not 46. And this is a new semester, so I'm not able to judge my current students' work yet. (I have not read the most recent batch of essays, since they were only due this week.) Also, the improvement in quality that I observe is not only (or maybe even primarily) in the area of writing. Finally, it is quite possible that the improvement is (at least partially) in me...I know I have gotten a lot better at engaging students. In fact, in recent days I have been doing a lot of thinking about how great my classes are. Sure, there have been semesters that were uneven, and individual classes that were particularly memorable (in a good way), but I haven't had a truly disappointing class in years.

But I guess I could agree that there are a small minority of students even now who have terrible writing skills. I'd say excessive television viewing, doing very little reading (not just what is assigned for class - I detect a lifelong deficit in pleasure reading, something I find very sad), and an abundance of communications technology (email, texting, social networking, cell phones) all contribute to this problem. I point this out as someone who appreciates communications technology a lot. One of my challenges is figuring out how to co-opt it into meaningful learning, because it isn't going away.

Next, on the subject of the SUNY System implementing something to rectify the problem: 15 years ago was the heyday of MAP. I've no doubt the then-Chancellor responded that System was working on something. There were hints of expanding the program to reading and /or writing. That idea died, even sooner than MAP. Until recently, there hasn't been a shred of academic leadership in the System. Will this change now that there is a new Chancellor? I hope so.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Friday night, Sophie finally passed the peach pit! I can't believe it took almost two months. We had stopped worrying long ago. Still, it is a relief.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Four years ago today, Mr. Wuj left us. It still miss him, and think of him on a daily basis. He would be 14 if he was living, and given his lifelong youthful looks and activity level, I thought he would easily live until age 14, so I'd still have him if that had been true.

I'm sick! I came down with what I thought were seasonal allergies on Wednesday, but at this point I think it is a mild cold. It isn't any surprise because the students are all coughing and sneezing up a storm. I'm really careful around them but I still must have caught something. It isn't the flu, I don't have a temperature and it only involves my nose and sinuses. We have 31 suspected cases of flu on campus so far, but none confirmed. RPI has 5 confirmed. Anyway, I hope I don't give it to Bob. He isn't concerned. I'm not coughing really so maybe if he does catch it, it won't impact his stomach at all.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11. Hard to believe it has been eight years. It seems like 20; at other times, it seems like 1.

Yesterday I was remembering that it was the 14th anniversary of Howie's death. Howzerdo. That was his nickname, and now it is my Internet identity. Because on the Internet, no-one knows you're a dog. Howie didn't know he was a dog. I've never had a dog that loved me so much. He was a one person dog, and didn't care much for other people.

September is a month of birthdays for me, also a month of sad anniversaries. Mimmie's birthday was 9/13. Mine is 9/18. Rudy's was 9/17, the day Don died. Rudy died in September, too. Mimmie's birthday is also the two year anniversary of the day I found Ande, who loves me almost as much as Howie did. But he likes other people too. And he's a cat.

Classes zip along. Again this semester, we have been asked to plan what we will do in the event classes have to be suspended because of the swine flu.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I'm in the second week of the semester and so far, my classes are going well. I am having one hassle with a book going out of print (I only found out in August, which left no time to find a replacement, and there really isn't anything great out there anyway). But I am hoping to resolve that soon.

We managed to go to Samsonville for Labor Day weekend, Bob's first trip since July 4. My biggest concern was Sam. He is a real handful and Bob always walked him. He can't do that now - or maybe ever again. But Sam-Sam was a real angel! The travel went so well that we are going to go down again this weekend. A company is coming to close the pool (which is freezing).

The following weekend we are having a yardsale, part of the Village-wide, here in Castleton. It is also my birthday.

I've been doing some pleasure reading; currently I am about halfway through Lucky by Alice Sebold.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bob is making good progress; he went to work related meetings yesterday for the first time.

I picked a handful of green beans and two tomatoes! Must be 50 dollar tomatoes.

I'm back on campus on Tuesday.

And I am absolutely disgusted about that scumbag Michael Vick playing football for Philadelphia. I'm certainly no football fan - but this sinks to a new level of low. I hope they lose every game, and the fans (who did not "boo" him yesterday; in fact, they applauded) all get head splitting hangovers from the popcorn buckets of beer that are consumed at games. Oh, and the televisions of all watching at home burn out. Ugh. I can't even come up with something mean enough to write that would capture my feelings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bob's surgery went fine and he came home a week ago. Still a long road ahead, but I am cautiously optimistic. He's doing well, which is what we expected after the first surgery. The day of surgery was both a nail-biter and unpleasant (for him of course, but for me too) and on the Friday after surgery I would up filing a complaint with the patient relations office at the hospital for reasons I won't elaborate. This really made them snap to attention, I got several apologies (which mean jack, about apologies I feel this way: don't screw up in the first place and there will be no need for them later) and they gave him a private room (or rather, they didn't put another patient in his semi-private room).

We are now in a heat wave, the first of summer. So, I may yet get some produce out of the sad excuse for a garden. In S'ville, we are missing haying...and the pool. Sigh. It's too hot to work on my Fall class materials, so I am spending my time sitting in front of a fan during the day. Late at night is when I do laundry, etc. In the morning, I check my email.

Sophie either passed the pit without me knowing, threw it up, digested it, or it is still in there somewhere. But no matter which, she seems fine.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tomorrow is Bob's third surgery. It will be a long day at the hospital, and then he will probably be in there about a week. He says he is "psyched." I'm not. But I will manage.

Today was the deadline for grades. I finished at about 5:30 - one Z (meaning the student did not attend), two incompletes, two failures, two Ds, two Cs, and the rest (30) As and Bs.

On Friday, I found out that a tooth implant is in my future, and sooner rather than later. (Oh well.)

Sunday night I dropped a peach on the floor and Sophie ran over, grabbed it and gobbled it up, practically whole. We both freaked. I ate another so I could see what the pit was like, it is a local peach and the pit is pretty solid and small-ish. Bob Googled and it is a pretty common problem with dogs - lots of hits. It sounds like the cyanide in the pit is not much of an issue, especially when the dog doesn't chew on the pit, but getting an obstruction from it can be. For dogs under 30 pounds it is may be a problem, for those over 30 pounds it usually isn't.

Most of the postings were from people with small dogs like pugs and the majority even of those small dogs like that pass them. I am thinking Sophie is a fairly big dog and will probably pass it eventually but naturally we are both worried. I didn't call the vet but the ones on the Internet say to feed the dog canned pumpkin. That's what we have been doing. She is going to the bathroom just fine and acts normal but so far, no pit. The only good thing, if you can call it that, is that it transferred some my anxiety from Bob to Sophie!

It's always something. Bob originally said if she didn't pass it by Wednesday he wanted to take her to the vet for an x-ray. But he changed his mind since nothing has happened at this point. He said he doesn't want to go into the hospital with this worry, and me not being here to monitor her. The posts on the Internet say to watch for not eating, throwing up, etc. She loves to eat and rarely throws up, so if either happens it will be obvious, and so far so good. I am not sure what to do if she doesn't pass it, though. I wonder if it will just take a few days or if she may never pass it at all?

So tomorrow will be a day of worry - for Bob, and for Sophie. Send a prayer and a good thought our way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I don't like to clean. I'm also not very good at it. I don't know if that is because I don't like doing it, or if not being good at it is the reason I don't like to do it. I was thinking about this yesterday as I washed dishes and did laundry. There are many things I love to do that I am also good at doing, for instance gardening (although you wouldn't know it this year), writing, cooking. Are there any things that I am good at that I don't like to do? Or that I like to do but am not good at doing?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recently, I watched My Dinner with Andre, a suggestion from the author of a blog who always gives great movie recommendations. Both Bob and I found it thought-provoking, and something we wouldn't mind watching again, so I ordered it from Amazon (I originally got it from Netflix). I took some notes on the discussion Bob and I had afterwards, emailed them to the blogger - and here is her post. (Is this my fifteen seconds of fame? Or maybe that was when my skirt fell down years ago in a department store?)

Something that I forgot to write on my list of discussion items was that we noted Wally's infatuation with his electric blanket, and Andre's lamenting that technology cuts us off from nature. Today, electric blankets are almost a thing of the past (comfortable as they may be, they are just too scary health-wise). Then, we have no air conditioning this summer, because Bob can't lift the units, and with the cool and rainy weather we haven't felt the need to have someone else come over and help us put them in the windows. We didn't have A/C for years, until finally we snapped in a heat wave and got one. That was followed by another, and another, until all three levels of our house had one. We eventually got one for Samsonville too. They ran nonstop all summer. There is something good about being connected to the weather (although if August is 90 and humid, I may relent).
Tuesday night we brainstormed a list of questions, because Bob had an appointment with his plastic surgeon Wednesday morning and with his general surgeon in the afternoon. I went in both times, before this I just sat in the waiting room, but Bob wanted me to ask things and also hear the answers. The plastic surgery appointment was a regular one, but the general surgery appointment was more of a Q&A session, not a check up.

Both doctors are extremely nice, but the general surgeon is especially nice. I think he would probably have been better suited to being a GP, in terms of his personality. He brought a resident with him, and she said nothing, but I think she was probably there so she could see how to handle patient concerns.

We went down our list with each doctor - in some cases we had different questions for them, in others we asked the same things to each of them. It sounded to me as if the barrel stomach / pot belly outcome from this next surgery happens to almost everyone, at least to some degree, so Bob will very likely wind up with a larger waist than he has now, and it will be a permanent change in his body. This was the one area where the plastic surgeon did not seem especially concerned - he said Bob has a belly already and it seemed like he was thinking, "why would you care?" (I guess he doesn't understand that after losing so much weight, it is disturbing to learn that your waist will increase regardless of those efforts.) I am not sure he would have been as honest about this outcome if he didn't know that Bob had watched the surgery video on the internet.

Bob said he could understand the plastic surgeon's attitude, though. After sitting in the waiting room - there are only three types of people there: beautiful people getting boob jobs, face lifts, or botox, a couple of people who are there for some exotic serious surgery (like Bob) that the plastic surgeon specializes in, and then the majority: morbidly obese people who are getting lapbands or gastric bypasses, or having tummy tucks etc. to remove excess skin from bariatric surgery weight loss. So, Bob said the plastic surgeon probably is disgusted after having to deal with all those fat people who bring problems on themselves. [One bummer for Bob is that a lot of people assume he has had bariatric surgery, not that he lost weight on his own; or that his weight loss is the cause of his current problem. Both things are not true.]

He told Bob that he cannot give him a cosmetic navel - too much other stuff going on during this surgery.

He will probably use porcine (pig) mesh, since it is the strongest next to the synthetic. (This kind of freaks me out since I am such an animal rights person, but I am trying to keep my feelings to myself.) He will have three drains. He will likely still be infected, but with a biological mesh, the body can eliminate it.

We mentioned Bob's RA to the plastic surgeon. The general surgeon already knew about it, but we wanted to be sure the plastic surgeon was aware of it too. I asked if Bob's body might be rejecting the mesh because of it and also might reject the biological mesh for the same reason. The plastic surgeon wasn't aware of a connection - he said he didn't think so but I could see he made note of it. Probably will have a resident do some research on the subject.

The general surgeon visit was much more comforting. He told us that he doesn't want Bob to have this surgery, even more than Bob doesn't want to have it, but he sees no other way to clear the infection, the synthetic mesh has to come out. He said he can control the infection indefinitely with antibiotics, but Bob really can't stay on them forever and once they are stopped, the infection will flare. He said the mesh won't be grown in and will be easy to take out, because the infection prevents it being grown into his body, even after this long.

Bob will be in the hospital about a week, and will probably be out of work about 6 weeks, but the general surgeon said that Bob can work from home or even go in part-time as soon as he feels well enough - maybe 3-4 weeks after surgery. The same is true of driving - he said as soon as Bob feels well enough, he can drive - maybe as early as 2-3 weeks after surgery.

I really pushed on how many lifelong limitations Bob will have - I have thought what they have been saying is BS (that he will be able to resume a nearly normal life). I said, we really want to reduce the risk that he will have a recurrance (about 30 percent do). So, they were more honest - the plastic surgeon said no air conditioners, no refrigerators, in fact, no coolers full of ice. The general surgeon said 25 pounds will be his limit. So I guess my increased activity level will be a permanent part of my life - not a bad thing, actually, since I have always exercised my brain more than my body (one benefit for me has been a drop of about 10 pounds, to my college weight).

I also requested a private room for Bob's hospital stay. The general surgeon said he can ask, but not guarantee. This is something that I plan to really insist upon. If I don't get a guarantee from the hospital, Bob is going to ask the boss of his boss to contact his high level contact at the hospital. He had offered to get Bob a referral to a place like Presbyterian in NYC - which Bob isn't interested in - so this should be a piece of cake for him.

I told the general surgeon that I want to be kept better informed when Bob is in the recovery room, and he immediately said that this is my right and he agrees and will be sure that happens. (Last time I sat there in the dark for hours, wondering why it was taking so long, when he was throwing up, having blood pressure drops, etc.) I told him I am not the type of person to freak out so I need to know what is happening. I asked that the surgery be in the morning, and this he could not promise - but he said it will be during the day. Neither of us was happy with that, so Bob may contact the plastic surgeon (since it not definitely being in the morning may be his call, not the general surgeon's).

I asked how they are going to be sure that Bob doesn't get the complications (puking, blood loss) that he had last time. He said the pre-operative testing will help, and the anesthesiologist will be made aware, so they will reduce the chance - but can't guarantee it won't happen again. I guess Bob must just be very sensitive.

After all this, the general surgeon said "these are easy questions, are you saving the hard ones for last?" And we said, yes. Bob told him, I want you to put on your faculty hat while we discuss this. He whipped out the journal article that the Pakastani doctor wrote, and the email thread that he has had with him. The general surgeon took the article, said "oh, it's in English," looked it over. We could see he was surprised that we found it, and he was not familiar with it. Also, he was impressed with it - I think he suspected after speaking to Bob on the phone that it was some piece of crap from a nutjob on the internet, not a real peer-reviewed academic journal. He also seemed surprised that Bob had emailed the doctor, and that the doctor had responded.

He wasn't encouraging at all about being able to use the same approach - he said it isn't standard practice in the USA. He had questions about how the 13 patients are doing today, whether they still need to take antibiotics or have needed additional treatment (our impression from the Pakistani doctor is no.) He wasn't familiar with the antibiotic (it isn't approved by the FDA for use in the US) and he wondered if we do have something in the same class. I told him that it is widely used in Canada, Australia, Europe... and I guess Pakistan (both the general surgeon and the resident laughed when I added that, and then chuckled again when I said it is approved for veterinary use in the US, so I guess if our dog ever had a mesh infection he will be fine).

Bob explained that we learned there have been 51 adverse reactions to it (liver damage) and that in Europe, they have developed a genetic test to see if you can take it - apparently Northern Europeans are more susceptible to side effects, which would explain why it is more widely used in Pakistan and not available here. Anyway, he kept the journal article and Bob is going to forward to him the emails he received from the Pakistani doctor.

Something else the general surgeon told us is that he only has had 2 patients get a mesh infection. He said he really appreciates that Bob came back to him, because that doesn't usually happen. He said that he has seen many more than 2 with infections because when someone gets one, they generally change doctors. So he takes new patients who have infections, but had the original surgery done by someone else.

Bob said, hey people buy lottery tickets and expect to win, and the odds are much better of getting an infection than of winning the lottery. I think the general surgeon could tell that we are pretty skeptical, so he said, you can't have all the bad luck. This time it will go well, you will be swimming in your pool next summer.

Bob is pretty comfortable at this point. He is not happy about the pot belly thing, but he said he will work on accepting that and maybe he will have good luck and be one of the few who don't get it.

One good thing, they were having a Brooks Chicken BBQ at the hospital, so we took that as a sign. We got chickens for Thursday (Wednesday evening we went right from the general surgery appointment to Lark Street and ate out).

Later in the week, he got a call from the holistic doctor's office - the lab results on his drain effluent came back. So he has an appointment with them tomorrow.

We've entered the phase where we are having a good time and entertaining ourselves - since he is facing such an ordeal, and will be laid up for six weeks. Friday night we went to see a community theatre group's production of The Producers. And we are doing the restaurant circuit, even more than usual.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I was in Samsonville from Thursday to Monday - attended the HS reunion Friday and Saturday nights. Had a good time! The trip set me back a little in terms of work, but not too bad. I am not 100% caught up yet, and tomorrow I have to accompany Bob to several doctor's appointments, but I should be OK (as long as I get right back to it on Thursday. Class ends 7/31 so there is no time for procrastination.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We've had a several day stretch of no rain - it hasn't been hot, though, especially at night (I'm not complaining). Tomorrow, I am headed to Samsonville for my 30 year high school reunion. I'll be back Monday. So, I have been working diligently to be sure I am not at all behind in the class. I don't my trip to cause a backlog. This afternoon, I have to weed whack.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Finally, a day where the tomato plants might just grow a little.

Work continues...and continues...and continues on the street.

Bob's third surgery is scheduled for August 6.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

My sister has a new painting blog.
The Samsonville weekend worked out fine. The weather was gorgeous (and since then it has resumed raining). The pool looks good but it wasn't warm enough to swim. We sat on the deck and had lots of company. The 4th was more low key than usual but that is OK. I will be back down there in two weeks (for my 30 year high school reunion).

The class is now at 40 students. There are a couple of others who probably should drop. They have until the 29th (only two days before the semester ends, which is odd) so it isn't crucial yet.

The crew has been working on the road nearly nonstop near our house. I'm still not in the mood to complain since it has been such a long time coming - but it will be wonderful when it is finally done.

I have resigned myself that the garden isn't going to amount to much this year. Bummer!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Add / drop has ended; the enrollment in my class is 43 students!

Work has ceased on the road, I assume they have the day off for the holiday. Still can't park in front of the house, which will make loading the car a challenge. We're off to Samsonville for the first time since Easter.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

We had such a downpour last evening that there was a river running down the hill, and the ravine had a stream at the bottom. All the work on the street has corrected any water from coming into our basement when it rains, and I was thrilled. We would have had several inches in the past. (And given Bob's condition, it would have been me mopping it up.) It also didn't cut a path through my garden. Instead, because they had the sidewalk dug (and the markings for the curb were in, I'm sure they planned to put it in today), the water raged down the future sidewalk, and poured into my neighbor's yard. As a result, today they are having to do a lot of re-work - once again, in the rain. We can't park in front of the house until it is done.

I'm sure that the heavy rain did nothing good for the seeds I planted. A decent harvest this year doesn't seem possible.

Bob went to a holistic medical practice yesterday, and his regular GP today. Of course, the GP just validated everything the surgical team has been saying. He felt a lot better after going to the holistic practice. That's the kind of second opinion he needed.

As of today (the last day to drop without getting "W"): I have 44 students.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Work on the street continues. Our so-called sidewalk was completely ripped up yesterday. Now it is quite a drop from the porch door to the street. They are doing a very neat job. They did break one of my tomato plants, an heirloom that was planted near the sidewalk, in the upper bed. It was the Cherokee Purple. I think I may have salvaged it last night, though. Its little stem wasn't completely snapped, so I tied it up, gave it a drink, and it still looks OK today. Even so, I am glad about the work. It was a long time coming. It will be nice when it is done, although I am not eager for cars to resume speeding up Green Avenue again. Some still go too fast, even with the obstacle course.

Today they are working out there again. I hope they don't damage any other plants. I am a little concerned about the storm. They have not taken a break, even with rain, thunder and lightening. It isn't a terrible storm, but still. I resisted going outside to tell them that common sense should dictate that they go sit in their pickup trucks until the lightening stops. I suppose they are under a deadline, but regardless, you think they would know better.

On another subject, I am keeping myself 100% on top of the class at this point. Not sure whether things will stay that way, but it is an effort to even out my workload, take precautions just in case complications in my life arise, and strengthen class community. We'll see if it works. The enrollment right now is 45. That's my largest class ever, whether in the classroom or online.

Back to gardening, the beans are all up, but the cucumbers seem to have been eaten by birds (or maybe the seeds rotted), so I re-planted today. A few days ago I saw a female Cardinal in the garden, pecking away. I watched anxiously, not because of the seeds (although I admit to being a little worried), but because she seemed to have trouble figuring out how to get out of the fence, and I was wondering what to do if I had to intervene. I also re-planted a few of the beans, because some of the plants had the leaves chewed off, leaving only stems. Not sure whether slugs were the culprit (with all the dampness, probably), or a groundhog. This morning I saw a half-grown groundhog tangled in the fence, and again, I watched and worried, equally about the plants and the critter. I opened the kitchen window and hollered, "now you get out of there," and s/he stared right back at me. I don't know if s/he had gotten into the garden and I noticed only on the way out (after eating my beans), or if the fence worked, and s/he was tangled from the outside.

In both cases, nature took care of itself - the Cardinal flew away and joined her mate on a tree stump after a few tries, and the groundhog got free of the fence and scampered down the hill, accompanied by another groundhog that was at least as big as Sophie (and much fatter). What a relief! Slugs I don't like (and if they were the cause I will get them to drown themselves in beer) but the Cardinal was beautiful and the groundhog was adorable.

When the rain clears, I must get a picture of the rosebush near the garden to post here. It is especially gorgeous this year!

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm sorry. Pabst, winner of the ugliest dog contest, is adorable!!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I've had a few things in mind to post here lately (including how irritated I was over Roger Ebert's review of My Sister's Keeper...but since I haven't seen the movie, I decided that would keep). Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, what can you say? As a teen in the '70s and young adult in the '80s I admit to feeling sad.

Bob's doing well, although the third surgery is becoming more likely. Still hoping that turns out to not be the case. The weather has changed from continuously overcast and rainy, to sunny during some parts of the day, raining during others. The endive is up!

What motivates me to write today, though, is that yesterday, faculty received an email about changes in textbook ordering, sparked by revisions in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. We have to have our book orders in by October 1 for Spring and March 1 for Summer and Fall. This is supposed to enable timely access to affordable course materials for students.

Although those dates are very early, I don't have a big problem with the deadines (I usually get mine in kind of early anyway), and I do believe in helping students with making books affordable (I have copies of all of mine on reserve at the library), but I am concerned about one aspect of the legislation, "Reference to this textbook information on any printed course catalogues." Anytime I have referenced the printed course catalogues, there are many things in there that are out of date - making the information available online is not much of an issue, but I don't think the printed versions are revised very often. Since I change some books about once a year, does this mean that out of date information will be in there? And then students could have purchased obsolete materials and expect faculty to accommodate them? (Might this force faculty to change books less often?)

How did this slip through from the Feds without so much as a whimper from colleges?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wow, a summer day! I planted endive and marigold seeds. Next up, cucumbers, beans and more marigolds.

The construction on our street is really moving along today - they arrived at 6:30 AM! I guess they wanted to take advantage of the weather.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The sun came out briefly - I ran outside, planted the parsley, oregano and coleus, did poop patrol, picked up all the dog toys and put them in the washer (Sam takes them outside - there must have been 20 plush toys out there), and weed wacked.

Tomorrow, I'll plant the seeds.
The weather is starting to get to me! Not raining at present, but it is so gloomy. To look at things in a half-full way, if it was warm and sunny, we would be pining away for the pool and Samsonville - since we can't go there, it is less bittersweet.

But I want to plant the seeds! I got two parsely plants, oregano and a coleus over the weekend. I think I will plant them today, whether it is raining or not. Tomorrow is supposed to be a nice day (I'll believe it when I see it), and if so, I will get the seeds in and weed wack. The grass loves all the rain and soon it will be up to my knees.

Class starts today. 51 students enrolled! They all won't stay in, though.

Friday, June 19, 2009

We're having a (brief) break in the rain, so I planted the rest of the tomatoes. This year I planted fourteen, representing nine varieties. In the garden I have three heirloom plants: Arkansas Traveler, Stupice and Wisconsin 55, plus two Big Boys (a hybrid). In the flower bed, I have one heirloom: Cherokee Purple, as well as four Big Boy plants. In containers, I have four heirloom varieties: Chadwick Cherry, Yellow Pear, Burbank and Marvel Striped.

I already planted regular basil, an Aconcagua Sweet Pepper, Holy Basil, Peruvian Purple Chile Pepper and Purple Di Milpa Tomatillo in containers, also some marigolds here and there, a geranium and two hanging baskets of petunias. The chile pepper doesn't look too good, but the others are doing OK (the regular basil is thriving).

It looks like the rain will finally stop on Monday, so I'll plant the cucumber, green bean, endive and marigold seeds on Tuesday. I had planted lettuce and parsley seeds, but with the rain, hail and cold, they didn't amount to anything.

This is the latest I've ever gotten the plants in. It had better be a warm September or the harvest will be pitiful! Except for the number of tomato plants, it is a lot less than I usually do. Life has been too turbulent, and the weather hasn't cooperated. Nothing planted in Samsonville, of course - although last fall we put in some perennials, including Hydrangea - hope they are all thriving!

Bob went into work today for the first time - he is approved to work half-days.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I purchased the domain name www.gullybrookpress.com from yahoo in 2002. It redirected to my AOL hometown site. I remembered that I should have it redirect to my new verizon site. I was able to get into my yahoo account, but apparently I didn't use it to buy the domain. Finally, after days of emailing help, I figured it out and it now redirects to the new place.

Now, I have to finish all the virtual museums that are under construction, and it will be all set.
I took advantage of the nice day and rototilled my garden! I only planted the tomato plants and some marigolds, though. We are supposed to have rain for several days in a row and seeds would rot. My ankle held up pretty well, but lugging the 'tiller around wasn't easy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My summer class is all ready. It starts in a week, but students have access now.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lots of excitement here in Castleton this weekend. Besides the two-day celebration for Hudson 400, the high school boys baseball team won the state championship. Now, I am not much of a sports enthusiast, but when I was in Stewarts' last night, the clerk (associate? Not sure what they are called at Stewarts') told me about the win and said the Village would be having a parade down Main Street at 11 pm. I could hardly believe it, but with the atmosphere very upbeat from the flotilla, who knows? It was raining at 11 pm - but sure enough, I could hear the sirens from the parade.

Friday, June 12, 2009

This afternoon, we went to Schodack Island State Park to see the Historic Flotilla on its was to docking at the Castleton Boat Club, as part of Castleton's & Schodack's celebration of the Hudson/Champlain 400 (and Fulton 200).

The Half Moon

The Clearwater

The OnRust

In the morning, Bob had another follow up appointment. It seems to doctors are in consensus that he is going to need another surgery. It's very hard to accept.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bob had his second follow-up appointment today. It went OK. He looks and feels well, and I think we were more optimistic going in than we were afterwards. But he did get cleared to go back to work for half days, starting June 18. He has another appointment Friday, and two more in two weeks. I really hope he doesn't need another surgery eventually.

The walk in the hospital really killed my ankle. Did the same thing last week. It felt so much better this morning, but tonight it is really bothering me. I don't learn!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

In this post, I mentioned Edible Arrangements. Recently, when I was casting around for an appropriate thank you gift for the people who have done so many good deeds for us recently, I remembered it. I have sent eight - and everyone loves them. I just have to mention what a great idea it is. They seem to deliver everywhere, and it is flawless. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Still working on the website. I'll have to switch to focusing on the online class soon, though.

That and the garden. I bought some plants today!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I finished restoring my GBP website - at least for now. I'm sure I'll add more, and tweak what's there.

Added: I still have work to do. A lot of the site is fine, but four pages of the virtual museum need to have photos uploaded.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Bob is OK. He looks well and is improving, but it is slow going. I have a feeling it will be like this for months. I'm really hoping we can get to Samsonville for July 4. The pool is open (what a great family I have. The pool, the rides...). The grass is mowed. I am not sure whether Bob will be cleared to swim by then, though.

I finished my big end-of-year advisement projects - just about a month late. Now my plate is cleared and I can garden! I ordered some live plants from Seeds of Change (as well as my usual seed order). My summer session class doesn't start until the end of June (50 students have registered - but I'm sure a lot will drop).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bob had his follow up appointment today. The doctor believes he will probably need a third surgery, but we are focused on that maybe not being the case. He looks and feels well. He wasn't cleared to drive or go back to work (no surprise about the work), and he has two appointments next week.

The cab was late! Very anxiety producing. What made it worse, there has been a lot or work being done on our street for about the past 10 months or so. It's a one way street, but often you can't drive the correct way on it. So this may have contributed to the hold up. As a result the ride to the hospital increased my car phobia at least +10. (I was envisioning inventing a phobia game...)

Edna killed a chipmunk! I was not happy. She brought it on the patio so I could see it. And of course, I had to deal with it. (One of the many jobs that I never have to do, that I now have to do.) I felt sad for the cute little thing. But Edna is really amazing - she must be around 17 at this point and still vital.

My ankle is so tired! Walking around in Albany really pushed it more than even the stairs or weed wacking at home (this morning it actually felt like it was on the mend).

One student emailed - complaining about the grade (an A-!). I didn't budge, of course.
Bob's follow up appointment is tomorrow afternoon (actually today; I just haven't gone to bed yet so to me it is still Tuesday). I know he is apprehensive. He seems pretty well overall but there are moments when he struggles. Please let him be on the road to recovery.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bob is still doing well. We are very hopeful.

I am managing, in terms of my ankle. It is very bruised and still swollen. It hurts the most in the morning, after I get up. I use my cane in the living room. I also ice it on and off all day. Bob is able to carry small things downstairs so I can hold the bannister all the way. Since I don't drive and Bob's follow up isn't until Wednesday, I couldn't go to church today. That's a very rare event for me. I love the walk to and from church, but there was no way I could walk that far. However, I did clean up the yard and I started weed wacking (then the battery died).

Since I'm favoring the left and I have problems even on a good day - my right leg is protesting.

Sophie had some kind of episode last night. We are not sure if Sam hurt her leg while playing, she had a mild seizure, or she had a nervous breakdown because we have been focused elsewhere and she isn't getting the attention she usually commands. Any of those are possibilities. She is still acting kind of weird, but she seems OK, like nothing obvious is wrong physically.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Grades are done!! Yay!!!!!!!!

Now if Bob was well, and I didn't have a sprained ankle...we would go out to dinner to celebrate.
Bob looks and feels well. We are in sort of a holding pattern, waiting to see if he can keep the mesh. Several posts ago, I wrote that I wasn't going to share the details of his experience. This morning I told him that I think it will be a good idea for him to write up something about his experience and I will post it somewhere - either as a post here on my ejournal or on my verizon hosted Gully Brook Press website (still under construction, btw - it is a summer project).

I made a lot of progress on grades yesterday and I plan to submit them on Monday. Yippee!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bob is coming home today!

I am aiming to be done with grades on Monday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bob is getting better, but he's still in the hospital. Not sure when he will be coming home.

The wedding was wonderful. But, I sprained my ankle right at the end of the reception. A combination of inattention to where I was walking, 3 drinks, feet always a little bad when they're tired, and heel spur...and I fell completely down, but didn't hurt myself otherwise. (I did break my wine glass in the fall - I am glad, actually. It was full and would have been my 4th, and I definitely didn't need it). It didn't really hurt and I was able to walk around with no problem. On the ride home, I took my shoe off because I could tell it was swelling. After I got home from the wedding - I thought, wow, this is an ER level sprain. But I iced it all night, even when I was sleeping and it was somewhat better in the morning. I iced it on and off today too. Motrin helps. The ankle is swollen and bruised, but the rest of my foot is fine. Walking on it actually seem to help it. Sitting around makes it stiffen up. My shoes are great, of course. You could walk in them with a stump.

Just my luck right now!

Some good news: I made some progress on grades!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bob had a major setback and had emergency surgery Wednesday night. He's still in the hospital, receiving massive antibiotics. He's going to be in there at least several days. He feels better than he did after the original surgery. Tomorrow is our anniversary. Every other year we celebrate with a posh dinner, sometimes a weekend away. This year was to be spent at our niece's wedding, and we were going to stay overnight there. We intended to go from Samsonville. But I will be going to the wedding alone. It will be a round trip. I am not sure the hotel will refund the money, but we'll see. Regardless, it is going to be a difficult day for both of us, and not because of the forfeited hotel room!

Twenty students have sent me well wishes. My students are the best in the university.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I changed my profile picture. This is the official university portrait that I just had taken. I had many to choose from, and so I put it up to a vote of friends and family. I got 18 responses - this one was the winner with 7 votes.

I'm going to write about two subjects I almost never post here: religion, and an old friend.

Here's an interesting post, with a long comment thread (that are mostly thoughtful and didn't degenerate into insults).

I rarely comment anywhere - I really don't consistently write that much even here. But I thought about the post, link and comments and decided to contribute some reasons for why I am Catholic. I have many more reasons, too many to write in a comment. Also too many to write here.

But I kept thinking about it, even after commenting, and remembered an experience I had last year. I have a very, very troubled friend. We share a long, complicated past. I've done a lot of writing about our relationship over the years. It would almost make a book. I have never attempted to get any of it published, although some parts of it would be very marketable. I've written very little, practically nothing, about my friend here in this ejournal.

Over the years, we lost touch, for reasons I won't go into, but I will say that it was a deliberate decision on my part. I found not having her in my life incredibly cathartic, although I sometimes worried about her, in the back of my mind. Then, about a year ago, I heard through the grapevine that she wanted to get in touch with me. I was given her telephone number.

I didn't know what was the right thing to do. It's been easier without her. Still, I did care. I agonized over the decision.

When I was in church at Sacred Heart that weekend, I prayed for an answer. The sermon was about whether people could change. The priest said that Jesus felt that they could.

I went home, googled the telephone number, got the address and wrote her a letter. We later talked on the phone. She is recovering. Will it last? I don't know. I hope so.

More has happened since then, but that will keep. Maybe forever.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I think Bob has shown some gradual improvement for the past two days. It's very slow-going, though, and he often feels like crap.

I have a heel spur! It is so minor in comparison to what he is going through that I hate to complain. Time for an adjustment to my orthotics.

Finally, today, spending a little time on grades.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bob seems a tiny bit better. He ate a little, and went outside for a brief time twice.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bob was improving after he came home Tuesday and into Wednesday, but then he had another setback yesterday afternoon. It didn't require him to return to the hospital, and in some ways, he is improving.

I haven't written a lot of details about his surgery, and I don't plan to - he probably wouldn't mind, but I don't feel it's my place to do so. It's his, not my, surgery and complications. Also, I haven't had a lot of time to write here. For one thing, every moment I have spent on the computer (or blackberry) has been occupied with sending email updates to family and friends, and responding to work-related stuff. Remember my grading deadline is 5/18! (Which I believe I will miss for the first time in the nine years I have been teaching).

Instead I'll write about my experience. Today I put the newly acquired permit to good use, and went to the drug store to get an anti-nausea medication that his surgeon phoned in. I had to take Bob along, of course. I felt bad about that, because if I wasn't so driving-phobic and had a license, he could have stayed in bed. But I think the fresh air may have done him some good. And no way could I have done it alone. For one thing, I would never break the law, and for another, I need a co-pilot.

Nine years ago I finished the PhD, and moved on to a new goal. I resolved to finally get my license, with a date in mind of before turning 40. For the first time in my life, I actually practiced. I'd had my permit three times before. When I was 16, I practiced a little and never took the test. For my second permit (in my 20s) and my third (early 30s) I never practiced at all. Those permits were simply glorified IDs.

In 2001, I wound up failing the road test four times. It was really hard to take it that many times. It is more in my nature to walk away with the message of "unworthy." I finally did give up, and never drove again. My permit expired in 2005 and I didn't bother renewing it in the two-year window.

Anyway, whether I actually drive a lot and take another road test remains to be seen. I suspect I won't do it. I'll drive short distances right now and maybe occasionally in the future, even after Bob is cleared to drive again, and be satisfied. I don't see myself ever getting over my nervousness, and frankly, the road test itself is a barrier. I know I could never pass it. Not because I can't execute all the skills competently - but because my nervousness is apparent. I am always hyper-vigilant.

I'm that way as a passenger, too. I'm often that way in other parts of life as well. I was the kid all parents wanted to go with their kid - because they trusted that I would never do anything stupid. Or if something dangerous happened, I would know what to do.

In any event - I'm really proud of myself for driving today.