Archive for May, 2007

This just gives me a chuckle; I don’t know why:

Find an avian (bird) vet before you need one. 2AM Sunday morning is no time to be stuck running around trying to find someone to treat your chicken!

Good advice, no? You can see the whole article at:http://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Chickens-in-a-City

I really want to join the Urban Chicken Movement.


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sheepwalkI have been doing lots of thinking about purpose. I Just can’t seem to “go along to get along.” I don’t want to be a “sheepwalker.” and I don’t want to create sheepwalkers. My purpose is to live every day, right out loud, and in connection with other loud people.

Then there is my job. Many times in this blog I have complained about trying to figure out my role as the “teaching person” in a technology group. I am living in the crevice of a transformation that is happening in so many areas. What I am thinking about today is that transformation is hard and takes a long time. No less a person than George Siemens echoes my feelings:

Feeling a bit hopeless…

I attended a keynote presentation today – the equivalent of last gasp of traditional education viewpoints. The bulk of the session focused on essentially saying “don’t use technology in teaching, be engaging instead”. …

Higher education is deeply entrenched in its historical rituals; research, tenure, publishing, and recognition. Teaching has been largely ignored. But, I think that’s changing. Statements of “scholarship of teaching and learning” are more common in mission statements, now even reflected in tenure considerations. The dichotomy of teaching and technology is falsely conceptualized…and arguing too strongly in either camp essentially reflects preservation of ideals rather than true consideration of the learning, the context of learning, the nature of society today, the type of future learners with inherit, and so on.

I agree with Siemens, but I also have to take it one step more. The comment “don’t use technology in teaching, be engaging instead” gets me right where I live. People commenting on his blog post rightly asked “Why is it either/or?” But no one looked at the logic embedded in the second half of that statement. Is it really the highest calling of a teacher to “be engaging?” Night club singers, comedians, and dramatic actors, yes. Teachers? I don’t think so. Engaging students in learning is different from “being engaging.”
My understanding of learning has changed so much in the last ten years. I feel physically ill when my own children talk about their school daze in a system which insists on shoveling content. I now what what a course can be like. I hope for my own kids that they will someday get to experience learning with mentors like Barbara Ganley . I think courses at their best are learning communities. And community is at the heart of Web 2.0. You can argue wether we are creating networks or ecologies

but to do that is to have skipped past the part where you change your notion of the passive learner. And this where sheepwalking comes in (you knew I was getting back to that, right?)

Professors often complain about their students, how they don’t engage in the life of the mind. But what are we doing that either creates or combats this? There are 2 major roadblocks: 1. students who get to higher ed have been really successful in a system that rewards sheepwalking. 2. professors have come out of that system too, and in fact still live in it.

So when a teacher opens the class saying “we are going to create the syllabus together,” students freak and drop the course. And if students aren’t happy, the faculty member’s student evals are low, that affects their pay and tenure. A recent article in the Times about Harvard’s move to focus on good teaching has been getting passed around on our campus. I asked someone who sent it to me what faculty reaction they had heard. It was predictable: nothing will change until the tenure process rewards teaching.

Are we saying that we’ll wake up after everyone else does??

And that is why I continue to work in a Teaching and Technology Center. Because it is really about learning communities and the internet makes so many things possible. The conversation has to happen on many levels at once: how do people learn? how can we help them learn? what is worth learning? I find that the people least likely to Baa-aaa these days are my ed-techie friends! It is a great place to be : )

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Olivia had come up with the most intriguing chart to add to our presentation last week. It fits so well with what we saw about the students’ research problems. The professor who created this chart, Carol Kuhlthau, has a very informative page which further explains her model which she calls the “Information Search Process or “ISP.” What I find fascinating is that she addresses the emotional or “affective” aspects of what we traditionally think of as an intellectual process.

I found myself saying to my students : if your research process feels uncomforable and messy, then you are doing it right! This was a hard sell. Kuhlthau says “…we have no way of knowing just how many people give up after initiating a search because they become uncertain and feel incompetent to continue.”
She describes a “Zone of Intervention for Information Services” (yes, related to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development). She then makes an interesting point:

The zone of intervention is that area in which an information user can do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or can do only with difficulty. Intervention within this zone enables individuals to progress in the accomplishment of their task. Intervention outside this zone is inefficient and unnecessary, experienced by users as intrusive on the one hand and overwhelming on the other.

So: Olivia and I have our work cut out for us. I am wondering if our intervention through the blog helped us to get inside that crucial zone. Indications are good that it did. And now I have outlined my research project for the summer. That’s what summer is for, right?

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Why Write?

In preparing for tomorrow, I noticed that one of my students had another new blog post.

student blog

I thought I had read them all! It turns out, she posted after she was done with her work for the class, and what she said really touched me. It took me years to be able to call myself a writer. I, like Katy, thought the term “writer” should be preserved for those incredible souls who wrote the words that were magic to me, that delivered me from my sometimes painful existence to other worlds where I could somehow breathe better. And those people were geniuses who never wrote rough drafts or made spelling errors. Or, if they did, they would certainly burn the drafts so no one would see them!

So–for highly imperfect me, to think of myself of a writer was too scarey, and certainly arrogant.

As I got older, I found it hard not to think of my self as a writer, since it was just something I did all the time. So I redefined that word for myself to mean “someone who puts words on paper” with no part of the definition addressing the idea of “success” or publication. I also discovered, at about this same time, that the model of “writer as recluse” didn’t work for me. I discovered that lots of women like to write in groups, to share their writing with other women writers.

And then blogs appeared. What do we make of them? I used to get really annoyed at the folks I work with who insisted that a blog was successful only if it had lots of readers. They wanted to make it like every other rat race. I wasn’t interested.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum ; ) I needed mentoring and no one on my campus could do it. My first blog was set up to get advice and connect with other people who did what I do for a living. I was amazed at how satisfying that was, the community that formed, and the way I could save things there and always get back to them (I am organizationally challenged…) And then I started to use them in my classes. I wanted to create a collegial community for them, like the one I had found. It had nothing to do with “art” but it had everything to do with “community.” I find it easy to write in my blog because I DON”T think of it as art! I don’t even think of it as writing, in some ways.

When Katy writes about seeing the movie “Les Amitiés Maléfiques (Poison Friends) and the character Andre who makes of fun of his “little writer friends” she says:

As an English major this came like a smack in the face and it still sort of stings. I don’t write very much as it is outside of class, and I’m almost afraid to. Part of me agrees–I do not want to abuse the beauty of literature.

But I’m torn–can’t self-actualization be found in the act of writing? Isn’t there so much it has to offer the individual? Can masters become great without suffering through the learning process of writing shitty poems and stories? Or is literary mastery inherent in some individuals?

The entire blog process is directly opposed to Andre’s philosophy. It’s tearing me up on the inside. To write or not to write?

I see in this the whole “process vs. product” argument that buzzes around in Composition Theory circles. But it also makes me think about why humans write in the first place. Yes, to remember things, but also to figure things out, and to trade ideas with people who aren’t in the same room with us. And sometimes just to make something beautiful. I have seen blogs in each of these categories. And maybe there are more.

But what I want to say to Katy is: never let the love of beautiful writing keep you from writing. No one else can say what you can say. Say it or it is lost.

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Tomorrow is our day of food, fun, technology and teaching that we call “Learning, 2007”

I am posting my notes for my own presentation here, partly so Olivia can take a look and we can coordinate better! But I also want to get input from my blogging community. So I plan to follow this post with a post tomrrow that tells how it went!

Catching Students in the Act: Blogs as Windows of Opportunity for Teaching Research Skills

Have you heard a student say “There isn’t anything out there about that–I looked”? Find out what your students consider “looking” and how you can help them to learn to do in depth, excellent research. Technology tools and helpful librarians make it easy!

Terry Dolson, Lucretia McCulley, Olivia Reinauer

Jepson G23

Blogs and RSS feed


Concept: they use the blog as a place to record observations during their apprenticing, then to develop an area of interest for research, and then to reflect and record during the research process. They have RSS feed of each other’s blogs.  Olivia, our librarian, monitors them through RSS feed as well.
Their end of semester project was to combine their observations of student writers and what they learned through research and create one large document: Portrait of the Student Writer at UR

To facilitate this:
1.they each produced their own individual “research paper”
2.they read each other’s papers
3.they broke into small groups to write portions of the final project paper and then worked together as one large group to refine and present it.

Why a blog? “Research Community”

Blogs are public –one student had a professor from another school commenting and helping her
-they helped each other through Commenting
-they read each other’s posts so they developed a sense of what everyone was doing
“I definitely made a point of reading my peers’ ideas and experiences each week… My knowledge came not only from my personal experiences or even what I learned in class but involved inter- and intra- group discourse and collaboration. …my knowledge and education about tutoring and the writing process has come in part from this online community.” (Eisenberg)

Blogs are convenient:
-students now expect to be able to work whenever and wherever they want; blogs allow this
–they found the blog itself useful:
“I found it extremely helpful to be able to write down something as simple as the search terms I had used… and then be able to create a link to that exact article.” (Lietzau)
–it’s automatic date stamping helped them also with creating the Works Cited later!
It got the students to work on the project for weeks in advance and in more productive ways:
It helped their understanding of “research as a process that involves resorting to other options, fields and topics …I have learned that it is best to think differently when researching in order to find useful sources…” (Joyce)

Blogs are spaces for reflection—somewhere between personal and formal. We came to think of this space as informal but scholarly; “collegial”

Format encouraged understanding of research as a reflective learning process.
1. create a link (if possible–if not, write out a citation)
2. explanation of why you are looking at this source
3. What question(s) does this source help you to answer?
4. What new question(s) do you now have?
5. strategize–what next?

-it “brought the library to them” because Olivia was constantly reading the blogs and commenting

-they got my help along the way without having to make an appointment

Next:Olivia goes into specifics

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