Monday, September 29, 2014

I've had a bunch of things I wanted to write about here recently, but in an effort to stay on top of priority tasks while also having time to enjoy the absolutely glorious, picture perfect weather...well, maintaining this journal just hasn't risen to the top of the to do list.

I've had a short break from campus (this fall's schedule is great) which ends tomorrow, so I thought I'd take advantage of being *almost* caught up and mention two things.

First, Ken Burns' The Roosevelts. I have one episode to go (love the freedom of roku) and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. One thing I wanted to note, however, was that I thought the sixth episode really glossed over (by giving only about two sentences of voice-over coverage to) the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during WWII. This was especially obvious as a contrast to the POV concerning TR and his inclinations to war / imperialism, where there is much commentary from talking heads (one segment that comes to mind is George Will at his most prune faced, scolding us to look at TR with a "dry eye").

Second, I continue to be alarmed by the quality of student writing. No dry eyes here, I need a hanky. Or maybe an aspirin.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

This is my birthmonth. Last week was my birthweek. A week ago (almost) was my birthday. I maintain a tradition of celebrating on more than just the day. This isn't a milestone year (I'm 53) but that doesn't matter. I find that with my teaching schedule this semester I don't have much time or inclination for posting, but since we are on a short break (yay) due to the Jewish holy days, I thought I'd sneak one in. All is well...and when it is, that's something to celebrate.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Some recent pictures.
My view is a construction site.
Fun day

Purple hair and Beagle-Proof Fence coming soon
I got to the BB room early in Thursday night and immediately switched the tables and chairs in the last two rows to be facing the "back," where the closet is. I arranged them into two curves, and took a table for my stuff, moving it near the closet. There was one chair on casters that wasn't there last week, and that made me very happy!

I only needed one projection screen, and I used the monitor and built-in keyboard, but it is awful! Can it really be that the closet design is the result of consensus? If so, this is one case where that didn't work well, and a person with good sense should have made an executive decision.

First, it is hard to both pull it out and put it away, and second, you have to stand up, facing the closet, not the students, to operate it. Finally, It has a touch pad laptop-style mouse that is marginal (I hate them). There is nowhere to put the wireless mouse if you wanted to use that instead.

I had to call for help to put it away when class was over. The nice young man from tech support showed me the trick to doing it, and I think it won't be a problem in the future, but that does nothing about having to stand with my back to the students.

That said, I was able to show them Collaborate and a brief powerpoint. The students overall are very good, a nice mix of PhD and MS and they all came prepared. Class discussion and small team meeting #1 went well. Unfortunately two have dropped (leaving me with 10).

After class, two students helped me put the tables back into four rows, but we also switched all the chairs to face the opposite way from how the room was originally set up, on the theory that no one will change it back since it makes more sense due to the closet's location.

Near the classroom is deserted Thursday nights -- there were one or two classes in the rooms in the main part of the basement with interior windows overlooking the lounge, but nothing in any room in the entire section where my class meets. Kind of strange. Does no one like the building?

Something I notice now that I am teaching a graduate class is students’ Blackboard skill level is lower than among undergrads. Anecdotal of course, and it is true that undergrads occasionally have issues with the same tool (figuring out how to view my comments on evaluated assignments) but it seems more common with grad students. I get asked for feedback and when I ask “beyond what I already wrote on your paper?” invariably they confess that they couldn’t figure it out and only saw the score with no comments.

Something totally unrelated: I had my left temple dyed purple. I tried to have this done 20 years ago and it was a disaster. My hair did not take kindly to having the black stripped out, and it didn't accept the dye well, either. It turned orange, and eventually snapped off from too much processing. I'd NEVER dye my hair to cover my salt and pepper -- I love my hair -- but this little purple patch is awesome! Hair products have improved tremendously in 20 years.

It seems I let even more time go by! Went to the state fair and saw BNL, the semester started, celebrated labor day weekend -- it now we are having the hottest spell of the summer!

This Fall, I am teaching my usual toleration class, foundations, and a new class for me, a graduate class about higher education history. It is slightly blended: four web conferences throughout the semester, where we will again do my “developing prompts and questions” for an online discussion journal.
At the first class,.there were 12 students, and I think any more than 15-16 (or maybe 17-18 MAX) would be too many for the classroom I scored in the new much-hyped business building. The room has four rows of small tabled and chairs, and no instructor desk, console, podium or chair! It’s very structured, and while the seats and tables are not bolted down as in the stadium-style large LC classrooms, the chairs are not on casters, the tables are close together and will be a hassle to move around.

I didn't have any trouble with the room tech, which was a major relief, as I didn’t attend the training. My fault if anything had gone seriously awry, so luckily nothing did. After seeing the technology cabinet in the room, I found it easy to figure out, so training would not have been worthwhile for that purpose, but it would have been useful to have seen the physical room set up in advance so I would have had time to recover from my irritation over the poor design.

The absence of any furniture for the instructor is ridiculous. I wound up dragging a chair around to face the students and sitting so I could work the mouse and keyboard. I didn't bother with the monitor (there are way too many gadgets to tote. The tables and chairs are set up so the closet is in the back corner of the room). But no monitor means having to use two projection screens and I found that didn't completely take care of the problem of needing to turn around to look at the screen, since from that distance, I couldn't see whether the mouse was on what I wanted to click, and also it didn't mean I was able to look at their faces -- when sitting down, the screen is so high above their heads! So next week, I may have to resort to the monitor.

The tables and chairs in rows are awkward. We didn't move them, but in most future classes, at least during the second half, I don't see another option. We received a Registrar’s email about not changing classroom set up, and I’m not sure if this applies or not. Regardless, I am going to risk it.

Finally, I wanted to show Collaborate  to them last night (we will use it on 9/11), so I brought my camera. But the PC is so far away and behind the students -- for me to be on cam and capture audio I'd have to stand back there. There's nowhere to place the camera except in the cabinet, so I'd have to face the cabinet rather than the students (who I guess would have to turn their chairs and watch my back) or the camera would be capturing my back. (They'd have to turn their chairs, regardless). When I am in front, the classroom image is of the back of students' heads.

I do see the new building as a big improvement over the old business building, where the classrooms are worn out and dirty and the consoles are old and broken., but frankly, for a room with no windows, I don't see an advantage over the classrooms in the humanities building or the small lecture centers. And both have adequate tech that only requires a log on, not a card swipe and balancing a keyboard on my head. The small LCs has nice high ergonomic chairs on casters at the console, and the humanities classrooms have student desks that can be easily moved around. All so much closer to my office, also! It was been warm and (mostly) dry, so the walk is pleasant (if far), but December is going to be a different story. There are several just-as-nice tech rooms with windows in nearby buildings and many others not as close, if I felt like walking far) that are also better, IMO.

I am not sure it's worth the hassle of requesting a move so I'll make it work (I still could change my mind though), but I am definitely going to request humanities for next semester. The new BB is a nice building, but the classrooms could use a little re-design.