One thing that is bothering me about writing my dissertation–especially the proposal–is the lack of voice it has. There are such formal constraints on this document that it’s hard for me to speak through them. As I’ve been revising sections of it, I’m dismayed by the sound of some of it. Some of it sounds so dry. I’ve tried to write that out by being more specific, using shorter words, but then it sounds too informal. Ugh. I’m trying desperately to find my voice in this thing. In chapter 2, which I’ve mostly drafted, I like my voice in there. Of course, that chapter is about what I know best, the technology behind blogs, networks, social aspects of the blogosphere. I think I’m not going to worry about the proposal too much. It’s just something that I need to get through. Though I may use bits of it in the dissertation itself, I won’t be using it as is. I’m going to continue thinking about my voice as I write the dissertation. I really don’t want to lose it.
So the deal that Mr. Geeky and I struck was that two days a week, I would stay after work and come over to the library to work. Today is the first night doing this. I don’t hang around the campus normally at night, so was unaware of the customs. First, besides the dining halls, there is nothing open food-wise until 8 p.m. Second, there is no one in the library during the dinner hours. It’s eerily quiet in here. Right now, I’m sitting in the library cafe, charging my computer. There are two other people here reading. Based on my eavesdropping, I think they are actually loitering around waiting for some event or other to start.
The library cafe is not a bad place, but the rest of the library–kind of depressing. The furniture is decades old. The carpets are dirty. I’m trying to ignore all that and pretend I’m in the Bodleian or something.
Anyway, I worked for about an hour before I went in search of food and I will head up to work again in a few moments. This is certainly the lonely part.
- Is it possible to know too much about something?
- Blind spots. Knowledge blind spots. I’m sure I have these.
- Lots of energy. Got it. Trying to take advantage of it. Believe it’s hormonal. Whatever.
- Do those memory-enhancing herbs really work? I think I need some.
- What will be waiting for me in my work email? How many messages of substance (not spam) will there be? My guess? At least 100. I’ll keep you informed.
- Do I have meetings? I think I do.
Jiggety jig! Back at home dealing with homework again. Geeky Girl has not been doing her homework on a regular basis, so we’re catching up. We tend not to police the kids on the homework. We ask if they’ve done it and trust them if they say yes. (Often they do their homework at their afterschool program.) Yes, it’s somewhat embarrassing when the teacher asks why there’s been no homework for a week, but with some consequences and a temporary scrutiny, things usually work out and the kids learn their lesson. I’d love to ban homework entirely.
I’m completely behind on my blog reading and I’ll probably be mostly skimming for a few days. Believe it or not, I’m nearly finished with a draft of dissertation chapter 1. I’m hoping to finish that up tonight and start the revisions of it tomorrow. I have to revise my proposal in specific areas, so I’m going to begin work on that as well. When I first found out what I needed to revise, my heart sunk a little or, more to the point, pounded a little in fear. But both of the committee members who read my proposal wanted me to revise the same things, and once I started thinking about how I wanted to revise them to respond to their feedback, I got excited. It still feels a little daunting at times, but having a concrete plan really helps.
Also, Mr. Geeky and I worked out a schedule for me so I can be sure to have enough reading/writing time during the week. I’ll be hanging out in the library after work two days a week, possibly until closing time. Even though I’m usually able to work after the kids are in bed, this gives me about 4 extra hours on those two days. Plus there will be weekend time as well.
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
Or in the more modern Dory fashion.
Keep on swimmin’. Keep on swimmin’. Keep on swimmin’.
I’ve been travelling this weekend–again. There has been shopping and rockclimbing and much eating. Pictures should surface soon if I can teach my stepmother how to email them. I’ll try for a more substantial post later in the day, but for now we’re off to eat again.
An example of my semi-science poetry:
At seven I discovered the end of the world,
how in four billion years, the sun would expand,
swallow all the planets. Looking beyond the red shift
of the furthest galaxy to see what the universe
expanded into, I understood how people felt
before Columbus, thinking if they went too far,
they’d be eaten by dragons or fall into nothingness.
As I lie awake at night, I wish there were dragons,
because when I peel back the edge like turning
the page of a book, the red disappears and I find
something I cannot understand, a darkness
you cannot call black, and emptiness like the hollow
sound of my heartbeat echoing off the mattress springs.
I might believe in an expanding universe–the red edges
stretch until there’s no more energy and then begin
to return, blue as they fold in upon themselves,
collapse back to the beginning, and then rise again,
Phoenix-like, and we live our lives again.
But everything now moves toward chaos, each atom
with inifinite paths to follow. The intricate spirals
they make as they move towards infinity, look
something like paisley as they copy, repeat,
copy, repeat then become erratic. And what happens
to us if we spiral into infinity, no chance of returning
again? How can I hope to remember you standing
there, pointing at a falling star, saying, Notice how close
it passes to the Pleiades, then brushes Orion?
I have generally quit reading The Chronicle, opting instead for the freely available Inside Higher Ed. However, I ended up there a few minutes ago and this article about Facebook caught my eye. I’m an educational technologist and general all around geek, so obviously I think technology in education is a cool idea. That said, I don’t think higher education is doing a good job overall in implementing or even addressing changes in technology very well. This article is a good example of that. Very few professors know what Facebook is, much less that their students are obsessed with it. Those same professors also don’t know about Ratemyprofessor.com either, I’m guessing. Their reaction, as evidenced in this article to finding out about such things is shock and awe. Yes, for the students, this stuff is entertainment, but so is tv and there are whole courses on tv shows now. Hell, there are conferences on tv shows now.
About a year ago, I ran a workshop about what it meant to put yourself online. We talked about Facebook, Friendster, blogging, and portfolios and tried to get people to think about what it meant to have such a public persona. The three people in attendance (yippee), one of them a student, were quite amazed at what we could dig up via the Way Back Machine and Google. So, I agree with Bugeja that we need to teach students to think criticially about their online persona and their interactions in online communities. But, I would argue, it’s hard to do that if you have no clue that such online communities even exist.
Higher education has been quick to buy into enterprise solutions for delivering online and hybrid courses, but very slow to seriously consider the implications of what else is going on online or to think about what online education or hybrid education should look like. I think this is especially true at schools focused primarily on providing face-to-face courses with “extra” stuff online, maybe ereserves if you’re lucky. This morning, I was reading a blog post by David Wiley, who is preparing to testify to the Commission on the Future of Higher Education. In it, he discusses the ways in which higher ed is falling behind because it refuses to adapt to changes in technology. He, and some of the commenters, argue that higher ed is closed and unconnected and that students who are used to open access and highly connected environments will be frustrated by the stifling environment of many college classrooms.
I had to laugh at some of the complaints in the Chronicle article about students playing with Facebook during lectures. Okay, so ban computers from the classroom and let them doodle instead. How about thinking about something more interesting to do in class? Or ways of making the lecture more engaging? Or something? If my students aren’t paying attention, I think either a) I need to change something about myself or b) too bad for them; they’re missing out (assuming they’re not disruptive).
I agree that technology brings with it some difficult challenges, everything from inappropriate content on Facebook to the increasing ease of cheating using the Internet. And I agree that higher ed administrations often spend technology budgets in inappropriate ways. (I say that with very little idea of how our budget is allocated; I’m never on budget committees.) I think it’s important to educate faculty about what’s going on in technology today, not to necessarily say, you have to use this, but here, this is what lots of people are doing now (plus, maybe they won’t think I’m a freak anymore). And maybe show them some ways those things might be useful. I’ve turned several people on to blogging on campus. I was on the phone with someone today walking him through Drupal (yes, I got it installed) and it was so fun to hear him say, “Wow, this is really neat!” Not every technological tool or gadget is going to work for every situation. But it’s important to understand the potential each one might have.
And, I think, administrators don’t always have the resources in place. I made a long comment over at Dr. Crazy’s about her frustrating experience just trying to use a DVD player. She got caught up in the bureaucracy. I see that happen often in my (probably) much smaller department. Mordac, the preventer of Information Technology is alive and well. I have no idea why the IT culture tends to attract these types, but it does. And while money may flow freely into software packages, it stops short of providing the staff to support the use of those packages. And forget having enough time for long-term planning, etc. Most of us manage, however, to accomplish quite a bit without a full deck of resources. Unfortunately, when we fall short, it has a pretty big effect.
My vision for technology and higher ed? I think we should have more people and I think we should seriously consider moving to open source solutions wherever possible. There’s no reason why we couldn’t use Open Office instead of Microsoft Office. We could move to Sakai instead of Blackboard (though that might be a few years off). I think faculty should be more involved in the decisions that are made about technology. Often that means being proactive and talking to provosts, CIO’s and presidents because unfortunately faculty aren’t always asked their opinion or worse, the wrong questions. Often the IT people are speaking a completely different language. They don’t understand the need to be mobile, to have access to a computer in a library, for example. I often find myself being the translator, explaining the faculty culture to the IT people and the IT language to the faculty.
I think there are a lot of issues here and most of them are far too complex to address with a simple “facebook is evil.”
I have always been fascinated with science. In fact, in high school, I was very good at math and science. My teachers in those subjects were constantly encouraging me to pursue a career in science. I, however, wanted to be a poet. Even as I pursued my lucrative poetry career, though, I couldn’t quite let go of science altogether. I wrote poems about asymptotes and red shifts. I went to talks about string theory.
For my dissertation, I’m venturing back into a little science by reading about graph theory. Now I couldn’t replicate the experiments I’m reading about or expand on them, but I understand them for the most part. And I think it’s very different way of looking at things–for me anyway. Most of the time, I don’t think about science in any kind of concrete way. But to think about the fact that it underlies everything, including things that you wouldn’t think it has anything to do with, is fascinating.
I’m reading Linked, which I highly recommend. In it, Barabasi describes the Internet as a scale-free network, that is, a network that contains highly-connected hubs rather than one where the connections are more evenly distributed. Last night I was reading the chapter where he discusses the failure rate of scale-free network. It turns out that failure isn’t all that likely in a scale-free network if you eliminate nodes at random because it’s more likely that a small node will be eliminated as opposed to a hub. In fact, small nodes fail on the internet all the time and we don’t realize it’s happened. Targeted attacks on the network, however, are likely to cause a scale-free network to fail pretty quickly. Attacks tend to target the hubs. When hubs go down, isolated islands are created; the network falls apart.
What this got me to thinking about, actually, was terrorist networks. If, as Barbasi suggests, scale-free networks can be observed even in social networks, and if terrorist networks are indeed an example of a social network, then there must be hubs, and bringing down those hubs would bring down the whole network. It doesn’t strike me that this is the approach we’re taking to combatting terrorism. Instead, we’re using the “eliminate any random hub” approach. Or eliminate any random terrorist whom we found through a broad wiretapping program. And, as I discussed above, this doesn’t cause the network as a whole to fail. What should we be doing? One, we should figure out who and/or where the hubs are. I suspect we know some of these, but I suspect there are many, many more we know nothing about. Two, we should eliminate those hubs. Seems simple, right? Well, unlike the Internet, where hubs are pretty visible, hubs in terrorist networks are not. Bin Laden must be a hub. Zarqawi is a hub. We have no idea where these people are. I also suspect that there are sub networks that are also scale-free. So there may be a worldwide terrorist network, but there’s also one in Iraq, in Afganistan, in Pakistan, maybe one in the US, all of which may function somewhat independently. These smaller networks have their own hubs.
Surely, someone is working with this kind of theory as a way to combat terrorism. Although, this involves science and we know how the Bush administration feels about science.
There’s nothing specific that’s happened, just an accumulation of odd looks. Yeah, okay, I blog. I use Flickr. I furl and del.icio.us. And I like these things enough to show other people. And when I do, I get “the look.” But man, I’m not that crazy, am I? It’s just the web, people.
One of our help desk staff told me today that several people she’s talked to recently have referred to the “interweb”. I wonder if that’s related to the internets.
Am I really the person driving around in the Ford Model T while everyone else is still in a buggy? Blogging’s been around for almost 10 years. Flickr and del.icio.us are owned by Yahoo! Blogger’s owned by Google. It’s not like these are weirdos working out of their basements. It’s the 21st century, right? Okay. Just checking.