Thursday, May 30, 2013

First FTF class for the blended learning summer course was last night, and it went well. Technical glitches are not unexpected, so I’m not surprised that I couldn’t show the webinar link in class last night. What I didn’t expect was for Java to be the barrier, I thought I might have trouble with camera or sound, but would be able to show chat at least.

Not that I don’t know the classroom machines have protection so faculty and students can’t install programs. I know that, which is why I told classroom tech support weeks ago what I planned to do last night so they could have the PC ready.

I reported it to them today so they could do the upgrade by July 10 and they told me to get there really early to test it in advance (I guess in their opinion 30 minutes wasn't enough time yesterday) and then suggested I bring my own laptop because that would probably work better! My contact in that office is nice ‘n’ all, but "Are you kidding me?"

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I’m always seeking to try new techniques in the classroom. I want to engage students so they are not dozing off, texting, or blowing off class entirely. The office that focuses on teaching improvement sends a lot of email invitations to workshops and webinars that showcase innovative strategies. I toyed with the idea of applying for one of their incentives late last fall, and if chosen that would have meant “flipping my classroom.” After thinking about it, I decided not to bother. The incentive was an ipad (which I didn’t care about), but more influential, I didn’t want to make the afternoon section of my foundations class different from the evening section, the way I had when I piloted the hybrid class design in 2008.

I was still curious about the idea of “flipping my classroom,” though, so I signed up to watch a real-time streaming video of a panel discussing their experiences. It convinced me I had made the right decision, as I do not care for one of the required aspects of “flipping my classroom.” Students complete a multiple choice quiz on the reading before class, during class they complete a discussion activity or case study in teams, then they take the same quiz again, after class. The quizzes are designed to be difficult, so that students don’t do well the first time they take them.

I could envision 100 angry emails after every quiz, with students disputing the outcome or demanding a re-do. No thanks!

What I like about the model is that all lecture, reading, slideshows are completed outside of the classroom, and that students use almost all class time to work on a case study, project or discussion. The in-class activities have to be appropriately designed; they have to be straightforward, so all teams can work on the same thing. Reportedly, students love the in-class dynamics – provided there are no slackers on the team (for some reason recommends team size is 7+, a number I consider to be unwieldy).

I’m using both ideas in the blended class. (Except not teams of seven; teams of five.) No time will be spent on chalk & talk, or at least very little time will be. And the webinars will always have the same format and goal: students come prepared with ideas, discuss them within team, share them with all class.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I’ve written that I teach undergraduates. My last time teaching graduate classes was in 2004 and 2005, when I took over the now-discontinued Urban Education program. It consisted of three undergraduate courses for the Urban Ed minor, and two graduate courses for the certificate in Urban Ed. Aside from those two courses, before he retired, I occasionally substituted for a faculty member in his classes for my department.

So I’m thrilled to have gotten the blended grad class summer assignment. It’s not that I don’t enjoy teaching undergrads. I do, very much. But as the distance between my age and being a young person increases, the challenge is to be sure that distance isn’t reflected in my relationship with students. It isn’t always easy. Every semester more students bring devices – laptops, tablets, smartphones (cell phone saturation has been 100% for a while) – into the classroom, and there seems to be no etiquette regarding texting and social networking. Not to suggest that this behavior is absent among elders, I notice it in faculty meetings as well. But we know we should be paying attention and that it violates a social norm. For undergraduate students, it is the social norm.

The solution is not banning devices, policing the room, or making useless exhortations (not that all three approaches aren’t tempting). The question is how to bring them into class in a productive and meaningful way.

Monday, May 20, 2013

We watched Cloud Atlas on Saturday night. There's not a lot to say about it that isn't a spoiler. It has a lot of characters in six different time lines, and the theme is reincarnation, with some characters always being good, others always being good, and only one, Tom Hanks; character, showing growth, starting out bad and ending good. It was very long, nearly three hours -- too long. Hey film editors! Learn to cut. Otherwise, it was interesting and kept my interest.
The other extreme from my last post. RIP St. Patrick's.
I am done with Spring 2013 grades! Just have to let them "simmer" overnight, and tomorrow I'll enter them. YAY!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What an interesting story! I can't believe I didn't know about this museum before. I am definitely going for a visit this summer.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The cool night temps are causing spring flowers to last. What a year for lilacs!
The only annuals at this point (good thing as I had to bring the pot inside at night this week), a gift from the church for teaching faith formation this past AY.
I can't resist taking pictures of the lilac bush, they are usually such fleeting flowers.

Since 2009, I have been responsible for cutting the grass inside the fence. I took it over when Bob was sick, and although he could have resumed doing it in 2011, I discovered that I love weed whacking (my method of choice). But for years, we have had "a guy" mow the lawn outside of the fence. He did a marvelous job with that, yard clean up (this does not mean "poop patrol," which has always been my duty, but leaves) and other small landscaping projects.

Early this spring, he called to tell me good news for him, but bad news for us: he got a better job, and so is giving up his landscape business! He is nearly impossible to replace, and the grass will soon be up to my knees. My little weed whacker is not up to the task -- the charge doesn't last long enough even with two batteries, and it is hardly heavy duty. So, Bob bought another battery operated weed whacker -- a major Ryobi. I hope I like it as much as my trusty Black & Decker.

Added: I love his column.

Soon I will be able to add to those annuals -- I am 80-100 percent done with evaluations for my spring classes, and the deadline isn't until Tuesday night!

One point of aggravation, nothing to do with spring classes: The bookstore informed me that the book I created (the publisher pitched me to do this, basically it's compiling a reader of various articles, like a course pack but in a nice POD print book and ebook format) isn't in stock yet!! I was told to have it ready by the end of March if I wanted it available for summer session, and I held up my end of the deal. 

This is a problem, as I want the reading done by the first FTF class -- and I am afraid students will discover it isn't in stock, and just plan on buying it when they come to campus that day.

I don't have time to go to campus to put a copy on reserve so students would have (inconvenient) access, and the job of scanning each page individually from the glass was daunting. So, I grabbed my scissors, cut the first reading out of one of the print proofs they sent me so I could use the feeder, and scanned it into PDF.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Today's dilemma: Consumed with deadline calculations (grades are due Tuesday 5/21 @ 11:59 PM). 93 students this spring, all work is in except one paper for 28 students (due tonight), amount of "stuff" left to evaluate ranges from 25-35 percent per class. How much midnight oil do I have to burn to make it? Is there enough time to take a break on this beautiful day to weed whack the yard?

I concluded the answer is "no" to the second question, unless I want the answer to the second one to be "a lot."

Oh well. Maybe tomorrow.

The most difficult aspect of designing this summer course – so far – has to be figuring out the video component. I want to record the FTF sessions, so they can be watched in real time and later. I knew I could use a webcam for this, but didn’t want to use a typical Skype camera, since I want to capture the entire class. This led to an enormous amount of phone calls and emails to a dizzying number of offices. The library has wonderful cameras, but the file has to be converted and uploaded to a server, and the office responsible has banker’s hours and a two-week turn around time. No office on campus seems to have anything more than a cheapie webcam. I was being advised to just use my laptop webcam. I found a great wide screen webcam on amazon, sigh. Late last night I was resigning myself to having to buy it, when the tech guy for the SoE told me his office would buy it! Yay! Problem solved.
Today I am inspired to write about educational philosophy. I took the class I'm teaching this summer in 1998 when I was a doctoral student. At the time it was taught by two different faculty members, neither of whom are at the university any longer; one retired and the other went to greener pastures. One professor focused exclusively on the roots of the field: Greek philosophers, European Renaissance thinkers, with Dewey’s progressivism as the most modern approach covered. The other, and this is the class I took, addressed the subject from a feminist and socio-economic perspective. The Greeks, Europeans and even John Dewey were never mentioned.

When I was preparing to teach this class, I reviewed the syllabi of the faculty who have been teaching it more recently. For many years after the two professors I described moved on, an adjunct from another local college taught the class. He is no longer teaching it, but two other professors are. Two-thirds of the syllabi reflected the “roots” approach, while the remaining syllabus indicated “roots” plus a more modern approach.

I’ve been teaching educational philosophy as one of seven themes in my undergraduate foundations classes for years now. When I first tackled it, I (pretty much) had to learn the subject from scratch, as my own experience was not very helpful – whatever it was we studied, I knew it was not educational philosophy. I now devote about four weeks of the semester to the discipline, and have come to believe that it is the most important of the educational foundations.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bugs hate me, spring 2013.

I have five incredibly itchy welts on my legs like this one. I got them on Sunday in Samsonville. It's now three days later and they show no sign of dissipating! I have no clue what the bugs were that bit me, as the bites did not hurt when they happened, and they did not itch right away. I was wearing long pants and not doing anything terribly adventurous, just sitting on the deck, with one stroll across the yard.
I was mistaken about the one more post! These vinca vines started coming up on their own a few years ago, germinated by seeds that came from hanging baskets I had on the porch. The vines line the foundation and ancient concrete staircase to the yard. The blooms this spring are fabulous.

Last post, then it's back to the grind! My sister has some really good news. Have I mentioned that beyond being beautiful, I believe her work is a good investment?
I really shouldn't be taking the time to write anything that isn't specifically job related (and even reflecting on the semester is a luxury), but I don't want to lose this.

When I was a teenager or 20-something, I am not sure I recognized the birth of a fad or evolution of cultural practice -- or the more permanent changes in ritual.

For instance, to use something from the 1970s, streaking. In the 1980s, piercings and tatooes. In the 1990s, reality programs and the emergence of roadside and sidewalk shrines to mark the site of tragedy.

Now I see "flash mob" wedding proposals are all the rage. What's up with that? Will this be a short-lived fad (like streaking), longer term than a fad, but likely to die out eventually (like body art and reality TV) or a shift in ritual (like shrines)?
I am up to my eyeballs in evaluation, and the calculation of whether I'll make the deadline (or more likely, with how much time to spare) has started. I managed to get my blended learning class all ready, since it went live yesterday. It makes the deadline question above more difficult.

One inspiration I had was to create a "Sound Off" journal in the class. I named it after the wonderful anonymous call-in forum in the Troy Record, but the in-course variety will not be anonymous. It is a space for me to reflect on the class delivery. Does technology enhance learning or does it get in the way? I've invited students to join me. I will probably post my entries here as well.

This is my first:

During this past academic year, 2012-13, I served on the Online Teaching & Learning Task Force. Since I am an adjunct faculty member, I am not required to perform university service, but the topic interests me a great deal, and I did not want to refuse the invitation from the Provost and CIO.

I am not a big fan of meetings, conferences or task forces. My attitude has been that “I was so done with” spending my time that way when I left SUNY System Administration in 1998. I said arrivederci to keynote speeches accompanied by spring mix salad with mandarin oranges, vinaigrette dressing and chicken a la Marriott.

So I was a touch skeptical when asked to be a member of the OTL Task Force. We were given a short time frame; our first meeting was in November 2012, and after several interim deadlines, the final report was due in April 2013.

I think about educational technology a lot already, and have for a long time. I was an early adopter; I started teaching online in 2000, after taking two experimental classes that relied heavily on new delivery methods as a doctoral student in the mid-1990s. But the OTL Task Force caused me to think about it 24/7, and to discuss it extensively with members of the task force, other faculty, and students.

The response rate to the student survey was 12 percent; this was not as high as we had hoped, but it still is a lot of students, and the comments in particular are a rich data source. Surprisingly, 80 percent of students reported needing no technical support for their fully online, blended and web-enhanced courses. (This contrasts with the wishes of the faculty, who report needing help desk availability on weekends and during the evening.)

Access to grades is something all students want. Undergraduate students want lecture capture, and graduate students want access to the Blackboard site for a class after the semester is over.

The OTL Task Force was a good experience for me. I gained some inspiration and insight that I hope will benefit this class. Of course I’ve already encountered one or two roadblocks (chiefly involving the logistics of recording and uploading video captured during the face-to-face classes).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Three comments about this story:

1) They lied -- I see steel
2) I also see the face
3) It's not coming down without a fight

Headed to S'ville for Mother's Day weekend.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The last one is the potato. Moved it to this container as soon as it was warm enough. Will container potatoes work or will I have to move it to the garden? (Root vegetables don't do well in the Castleton garden). At least it has impressive foliage!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Had my last classes for the semester on Tuesday, and now I'm deep in the weeds of developing one of my summer classes, which will go live on May 14 (and officially starts May 28). It's almost ready. Tomorrow and next week will be devoted to evaluation of spring students. Grades are due May 21.

I've received some significant push back from a handful of students about essay grades. They want extra points for misunderstanding the guidelines or believing the guidelines to be recommendations instead of requirements.

This is the grade distribution for this batch of essays. It is very difficult to see why special consideration is justified; I mean, 32 students understood.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Wow, is this picture-perfect weather, or what?

I think I finally figured out the droid (sort of). At least I managed to set up all of my email accounts, facebook, kindle and blackboard. And install memory, transfer videos, put on a protective skin, and a case. It's quite a learning curve from the blackberry.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Toleration class ended last night, and foundations ends Tuesday. Then grades are due May 21 and Spring 2013 comes to an end. Last night, I did my best to "motivate" (assuming the stick approach works, I've nothing left in my toolbox at this point) students to put more effort into writing the final paper.

I've been with SUNY (as an employee) for 25 years, and teaching at UA for 13. If you include my time as a student, SUNY has been a part of my life since 1978, minus five years in the mid-1980s.

It's hard to finish up this Spring's high priority tasks, when my imagination is already focusing on my blended learning class, which starts officially on May 28, but becomes accessible May 14.

And of course there is the glorious weather calling me -- I think I will fire up the weed whacker this afternoon for the first time this year. I should plant the potatoes too (which are now vying for second place to my annual tomacchio tomatoes in the Little Shop of Horrors competition).

And, of course, the remnants of my cold conspire to make justifying procrastination easy on those allegedly high priority tasks...

Added: I made a faculty webpage.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013