Solving problems

I like to solve problems.  It’s basically how I got involved in this whole tech thing in the first place.  You need your WordPerfect 3.1 document in a Microsoft Word 5.1 format? I’ll figure it out.  You want to create an animation of the solar system? Cool! Let’s figure it out.  You need data on how many people click that apply button? No problem, let’s figure that out.

Those are techy problems, but I also like solving people problems. Students who are struggling, faculty who express opposition to an idea, those are interesting problems to solve, too.  Or bigger problems, like what education should look like in 2020 and if we want education to look like that, then how do we start building something so that we can get there?  And that, I think is where I’m headed with my new position I’ve taken on, Interim Dean of Academic Affairs.  It’s somewhat undefined, but it loosely means I, along with the division directors, department chairs and the Head of School, am helping to solve the problems that we may face or challenges we set for ourselves.

While I’ve been a little skeptical about the path I’ve set myself on, I do find that I enjoy tackling these larger problems.  It’s like a know that need undoing.  I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by a lot of smart people who can give me advice, and who have great ideas of their own.  I feel like we’re in this together.  So we’ll see how this goes for the next year.  It should be an interesting journey.

Looking Ahead

At some point on most Sundays, I start thinking about the week ahead.  I might answer some email, check my calendar, do some grading, etc.  This Sunday, I’m coming off a week of spring break.  I’ve largely forgotten the 18 tasks my to-do list says are due or overdue (usually I have them in my head).  I haven’t looked at my work email, and I haven’t looked at our course management system.  I don’t even know what classes I have tomorrow.  That’s what I always hope for on a break.

But I want the week to start off relatively smoothly and not feel like I crash landed into the middle of chaos.  So, yesterday, thanks to UFYH’s weekend challenge, I did some spring cleaning. I will tackle day 2 today.  I love the structure of this, and the irreverence of the tone.  There’s no holier-than-thou tone that some cleaning/uncluttering sites have.  It’s basically, “Yes, everyone throws all their clothes on the nearest surface (sometimes the floor).  Let’s just take care of that right now.”  I will also probably tackle the 18 things on my to-do list, or at least schedule them.   I can feel the downward slope to the end of the year.   I’ve had a taste of freedom, and now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, otherwise known as summer.

Some other things I’ve been thinking about: reading and weight loss. I have a virtual pile of books, both kindle and audio, that I haven’t made the time to read/listen to.  I’ve gorged myself on tv instead, good tv mind you, but I feel like I could spend some more time with long-form text.  As I look ahead to the week, I’m going to see where I can squeeze in more reading.  It should actually be relatively easy.

And then there’s weight loss.  I’ve let my established eating and walking habits die, and I’m feeling the need to re-establish them.  But they need to fit with my life, which is part of why they died.  Since I’ve done most of my walking outside, and the weather has been bitterly cold this year, I’ve basically stopped walking.  I take the dogs out, but not for long.  Unfortunately, it’s *still* cold, but I’m going to try.  Also, I’m going back to no sugar (with some indulgences here and there for special occasions).  It’s not much I want to lose, but if I can, it would be nice.  And, in all honesty, it’s not the biggest priority in my life.  But it’s one I have control over.

I have other things I’d like to do: meditate, maybe.  Some programming, but I know how busy my life is, so I’ll just see what happens.  Planning is good, but things don’t always go as planned, so I just plan for that.

Saturday Snippets: Spring Break

Spring Break is coming to an end.  As you can tell from my previous posts, I was on a bit of a road trip with Geeky Girl.  Yes, we visited a college, but more importantly, we spent some time together.  When we go on family trips, there’s a different vibe.  We listened to Amy Poehler’s book in the car and started Mindy Kaling’s. We both have a thing for strong funny women.

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It’s a good thing to be away from work, to not check email, to not worry about a thing.  Treat break like break.  Everyone needs to clear their head and relax once in a while.

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Spring Break is never warm.  Both Geeky Girl and I discussed the last few breaks we can remember, and they’ve all been cold.  I woke to freezing temperatures this morning.  That’s wrong on so many levels. Next year, we’re going somewhere warm.

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48 hours until it’s time to go back to work.  I’m going to squeeze in all the relaxing I can.

Men Only

In the last few days, I’ve encountered some things where men are the only reference point.  Here are some smart people: list of men.  Here are some books you should read: only male authors.  Here are some people to follow on Twitter: only men.  Usually, it’s been men who’ve done this, but not always.  And sometimes those references are to people I know and admire, and sure, read their book or follow them on Twitter.  But also diversify.  Women, smart women, often don’t put themselves out there as much as men, sometimes out of fear, and sometimes out of lack of time, and sometimes out of a choice of what to prioritize.  Find some women to include in your Twitter feed, blog and book reading, and people to seek advice from.

Want some suggestions?  Here are a few:

  • Audrey Watters (@audreywatters)
  • Leslie Madsen-Brooks (@lesliemb)
  • Maggie Powers (@mpowers3)
  • Janet Stemwedel (@docfreeride)
  • Laura McKenna (@laura11d)
  • Lisa Palmieri (@Learn21Tech)

Leave your suggestions in the comments.  I’m always looking for more!

College Visits

We made our first college visit for Geeky Girl yesterday.  She’s only a sophomore, but she wanted to get one under her belt before visiting was for real.  The weird thing about college visits for both my kids is that their parents work at colleges (or at least they both used to).  They’ve spent quality time in real colleges, either places we worked, or at conferences.  So colleges are not entirely a mystery.

Also, I know a lot about the inner workings of colleges and will look past the sales pitch at things like adjunct teaching percentages and endowment numbers.  Geeky Girl, at least, found this useful.  Yesterday, when the admissions team touted the 99% of their classes are taught by “real” faculty stat, I quickly googled the percentage of those real faculty who were adjuncts. 22% it turned out.

I thought the visit we went on yesterday was a good example of these visits.  There was the pitch, and then the tour, and the tour guides had a lot of good things to say, solid things about academics and about the social life.  Geeky Girl did not look particularly happy on the tour, but afterwards said she thought it was cool.  She remembered some of the stats and was impressed by some of the academic things they mentioned.

I reminded her that the college was selling her on the school as much as she was selling herself to the school, and to keep that in mind as we go through this whole process.  In fact, I said, sometimes the school was more desperate than she would be.  She recognized the whole thing as a sales pitch.  I didn’t even need to say anything.

When I applied to colleges almost 30 years ago, I did two visits.  The first was in the form of a summer program.  The second involved visiting a friend.  In theory, I was supposed to go on the official tour for that second visit, but I did, um, other things instead.  Both visits were informative.  At the first visit, I got a real sense of the faculty and the classes and dorm life.  On the second, I got a real sense of the social life.  I ended up going to the first school and not the second.  I knew I’d never make it to class at the second school. Note that my parents were not on either visit.  And this was typical for most of my peers.  The whole college thing is very different these days.

Had my parents or I treated the college application process with just a smidge of the intensity people treat it with now, I think I probably would have ended up in a more prestigious school.  My mother did poke me to fill up the “left side of my folder” with activities, but otherwise did not really participate.  Brochures showed up at my house.  I would go to the library and pull up the catalogs of schools on microfiche, and I used the Princeton review to find out the real scoop on schools.  But I had no real guidance in terms of selecting schools where I might fit nor in sculpting an application to get into a school that might be a stretch for me.  I pretty much threw darts at a map.

While Geeky Boy wasn’t really interested in college, Geeky Girl is a different story.  She’s interested and she has the record to have some choices.  She also kind of knows what she’s looking for.  And she’s savvy enough to do the right things to put her in a good position for college applications.  So far, she’s taking it seriously, but not getting super stressed about it.  I, too, haven’t put any pressure on.  Study for the SATs? Maybe a little if you feel like it.  Do crazy academic things in the summer? Meh, it’s vacation, but if something strikes your fancy, okay.  The only things I’ve pushed her on are running for office and getting involved in things at school, not because of college (okay, maybe a little), but because I think she brings a lot to the table.  I’m trying to be the balancing in force in an environment where people study for SATs in 8th grade, and spend their entire summers enrolled in fancy-sounding academic camps. So far, she has a good head on her shoulders about the whole thing, so I think we’re going to be okay.  Still, it will be an interesting ride.

Past, Present, Future

First, let’s talk about the past.  Last night, when I got back from a wonderful day spent at UMW with old friends, sharing stories about how we met, people we knew, etc., I started digging through the blog archives to figure out the thread.  All of us had gaps in our memory, and most of us have known each other for around 10 years, so we almost can’t remember when we didn’t know each other.  The first mention of any connection I can find is this one, noting that Barbara Ganley’s blog is awesome and you should all read it.  Later that summer, Barbara G., Barbara S. and I would do a presentation at BlogHer, memorialized here and here.  Finally, there’s the first Faculty Academy, where I met many of the people I was reading and connecting with online in person.

Barbara G. had talked about fear at FA that year, and I wrote more about it here, and that, I think, spawned the fear crew and more conversations about fear, at least one of which is documented here.  As I drifted into K-12 and Barbara G. went on to do her own thing, and Martha had another kid, and Leslie moved to Idaho, we no longer came together, but we kept up online as always.  And maybe we’re not blogging as much, but there’s Twitter and Facebook.

Presently, we’re all in different places, but essentially, everyone is still connected, mostly through education and technology and all that entails.  Thankfully, our conversations have shifted a little as things really have changed.  We have makerspaces and the idea of posting online doesn’t seem crazy anymore.  The thing I think we all have in common is a need to push the envelope and to keep pushing people out of their comfort zones so that learning can happen.  Ironically, this involves looking back to the past sometimes.  Some people get stuck in the past, wishing for the old days of just books in libraries and no smart phones.  But some, like Jim Groom, look back at the old tv consoles and video games and computers (now stacked  in his office) and see the DIY spirit that was there and the hope of the future they didn’t yet know.  Those things seemed so cool in the 70s and 80s.  People are not as amazed by new tech as they once were. What we try to do, I think, is bring that amazement and wonder back.  And now, I sound a little like Gardner, so that completes my circle.

None of us know what the future will be like, but we keep looking in that direction, with a healthy respect for the past and for where people are.  Everyone I talked with yesterday wants to make change in some way.  Sometimes that’s directly through their work, and sometimes that’s through other activities (but it’s colored by their work, I’m sure).  And that’s exciting and inspirational, and makes me ready to keep moving forward.  Thanks, UMW crew, for the inspiration and the memories.

Woman of Fear #1

Back at Educon, I made a promise to visit all the women who’ve influenced my development as an educator.  I’m currently sitting at the kitchen table of Martha, the first stop on my tour.  Martha is graciously hosting me, and I feel terrible that I haven’t visited sooner since I live a mere 3 hours away.

I met Martha about 10 years ago.  One of the faculty she worked with emailed me to serve on a panel at this thing called Faculty Academy.  I said yes and he put me in touch with Martha.  I also met at least one of the other women on my tour through Faculty Academy and maybe a second, Barbara 1 and Barbara 2.   So Martha’s running the whole show, and the show is truly impressive.  FA inspired me for years, and I was lucky enough to do a keynote for them in 2009 (a keynote immortalized in video, a video I have watched and all I can think is, “What is going on with my hair?”).

Martha, the two Barbaras, and Leslie, and I had a gig about fear of technology in education.  This wasn’t the healthy fear of data mining and privacy, but a fear of embracing technology to enhance teaching and learning.  We went around the country talking about it, and trying to help those in the room overcome it and/or help their colleagues at home overcome it.  While some have gotten past that and Martha and her colleagues are examples of people doing really interesting things with technology, in my conversations with Martha over the last few hours, it’s clear a kind of fear still exists even 10 years later.  As I used to say back then, I find it so interesting that faculty will push their students to get out of their comfort zone and simultaneously refuse to leave their own.

So Martha is pretty amazing.  She is fearless in many ways.  She takes risks but isn’t afraid to say no.  Things that would freak me out, she seems perfectly comfortable with.  At least on the outside.  I have one more day to visit, and then I’m on my way.  I’ve dragged Geeky Girl on this trip, and I’m glad.  I hope it sends the message that it’s important to honor the people who’ve meant something to you and who inspire you.  Too often we don’t do that.  I’m especially happy that the people whom I’ve chosen are women.  I didn’t really seek women out as mentors in college.  It wasn’t until grad school that I even encountered a woman that served as a mentor, and even then, I ended up getting most of my support from a male mentor.  The women of fear were really the first women that I felt like I truly learned something from.  Years after we no longer work together, I  still turn to them for advice and inspiration (even if they don’t always know that).  I’m hoping to visit the rest of my posse this summer: LesIie, Barbara G., Barbara S., and Audrey.  More than ever, I need the inspiration.

City or country?

English: Country road feel to main city road S...
English: Country road feel to main city road Spiersbridge Road in Glasgow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in the suburbs, always have.  Only once, for a brief 2-year stint, can I say I lived in the country, and it wasn’t middle of nowhere country, but we couldn’t see our neighbors’ houses so I count it.  I dream of moving somewhere when I become a certain age.  It might be retirement or before, but when I dream of moving, I can’t decide: city or country.

Geeky Girl and I are in a city right now, and as we were walking around downtown, I said, “I do really like cities.” And she said,”I do too.”  And then I said, but sometimes I also think I’d like to be in the country.  She gave me a look, “You know how I feel about nature.”  Yes, I do.  She did not like our camping adventure.

Because I have always lived in the suburbs, I honestly don’t know if I would really like the other ends of the spectrum.  There are pros and cons to both.  On the pro side for the country: dogs would love it; it would be quiet; I could grow vegetables; and the scenery would be beautiful.  On the con side: commute might suck (for work or groceries); nightlife might be non-existent; far from friends; and bugs.  The city, too, has pros and cons.  On the pro side: walking distance to culture and food; no yard work; public transportation; and activities galore.  On the con side: higher crime; dog care more challenging; commute might suck; and might be expensive.

Honestly, the older I get, the more I lean toward the country. I envision sitting on a front porch in a rocker, watching the creek flow.  And for now, all of it is just a dream anyway.  Moving is not anywhere in the cards.  For now, I will visit these extremes, and maybe one or the other option will start to solidify for me.

Speaking out about stereotypes

I recently waded into a Facebook conversation where someone had equated those who code with the image of the nerdy, antisocial white male who couldn’t get a date (and may not want one or know what to do with one).  I had a moment where I thought about not saying anything.  It was, after all, a joke of sorts, and not meant to be serious.  But that’s the very reason why I had to weigh in.  My heart rate and blood pressure went up a bit, both in response to the conversation and in the fear I had about responding to it.

And that’s the thing.  Someone recently joked about Mr. Geeky being the reason for my success.  And that pissed me off because while yes, Mr. Geeky has been hugely supportive in so many ways, my accomplishments are my own.  And it’s not fair to me to insinuate, jokingly or not, that a woman can’t succeed on her own.  This is sadly not the first time someone has made that comment.  Because we’re in the same field, I get this comment every couple of years.  Think of the message that sends to my daughter.

These jokes may be offhand remarks, but they denigrate and exclude.  The comment about coders excludes women, excludes those who are gay, and it denigrates male coders just for starters. No one wins in that comment.  It pays to be vigilant, I think, because otherwise, these stereotypes continue to take hold, not just in the minds of those who deploy them, but also in the minds of those just hearing them, so young people start to make judgements about themselves and others, judgements that can have really negative effects on both individuals and society.

Saturday Snippets: Spring break, food, and more

Spring break started yesterday.  I worked up until the very last minute on Thursday.  For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, I was just named the Interim Dean of Academic Affairs, a very fancy title.  I’m thinking through how I will step into this position.  I will still teach, which I’m thrilled by since I do love teaching.  But I was also feeling the need for a new challenge.  I have been creating my own challenges in the form of new classes, and I’m always challenged by my students, but this is at a whole new level.

I am hoping beyond hope to mostly stay away from work over the break.  Geeky Girl and I are traveling a bit, so being occupied with other things will help.  I’m currently watching A Chef’s Table via our Roku.  I love watching food shows, not the how to kind, but the kind where you get a sense of personalities and realities.  Top Chef has been a favorite for a while, but it’s nice to find some new shows that aren’t competition based.  Plus, A Chef’s Table is set in North Carolina, close to my southern roots.  The food Vivian cooks is reminiscent of the food I grew up with: heirloom tomatoes, sweet potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, and collard greens.  I always cook a fair amount in the summer, and when I can’t as much during the school year, I fill in with these shows.

One of my favorite bloggers quit blogging recently, and it made me sad.  Yes, the world is moving away from the long form, but I still enjoy reading blogs. I spend more time reading blogs than I do on Facebook and Twitter, though I certainly enjoy those forms, too.  I’m going to attempt to honor the blogging tradition by blogging more often.  Like many long-time bloggers, my blogging has fallen off.  I used to never miss a day, but now I want to try to commit to daily practice again.  I am so often writing posts in my head that never get written and posted.  So, I’m going to get those out of my head.