Here’s some math. On any given day, I receive about 40 emails. About half of these require a response. I’d say that each response requires an average of 8 minutes. Conservatively, then, I could spend 2.67 hours every day dealing with email. That doesn’t even count dealing with our help system in which, on average I have about 12 issues to handle, each requiring 15 minutes to handle. That’s another 3 hours. Tell me again when I’m supposed to do my job?
I spent the weekend revising a couple of dissertation chapters. I had hoped to finish both of them, but the second one I was working on had figures and they did not want to stay put. I’m so glad I don’t work in a field that requires figures on a regular basis because I’d probably go insane. I’d also probably find a better program to manage my figures. InDesign comes to mind. Most word processing programs can handle the occasional image, but I have something like 20 in this chapter. Okay, maybe just fifteen, but still.
I’ve also misplaced my camera’s connection cable and am having to borrow the school’s card reader to do my 365 project. I missed Saturday because basically I was inside staring at a computer screen all day. Sunday, it occurred to me to snap a photo of the screen. I took one when the computer crashed (as a result of rearranging figures), and another one after the documents had been recovered. Luckily, I save often, so I only lost a couple of sentences.
The 365 project has made me realize how much I stick to a routine and similar surroundings every day. Partly, that’s due to the dissertation project which has kept me at home inside. Partly, too, it’s the weather. I’m not a cold weather person, so I haven’t been outside much. By March, I think the outlook will improve. The dissertation will be out of my hands; the weather will be improving; and I’ll try to do more interesting things.
I’m so glad I didn’t have time to read this this morning. How many times are we going to have this discussion? Just keep marking the papers down. Or better yet, have your students edit the wiki. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to teach people how to do real research.
In talking to people over the last few weeks–and really years, I guess–I’ve noticed that people don’t always understand not only what I do, but the broad knowledge I have, and feel I need, in order to do my job effectively. So I just wanted to put this down off the top of my head:
- A variety of software applications, including but not limited to:
- Word Processing
- Camtasia (screen recording)
- Cleaner (video and audio file conversion)
- Audacity and/or Garageband
- Acrobat professional
- iChat and AIM
- A variety of web browsers
- Blackboard and other course management systems
- Drupal and other blogging platforms
- CD and DVD burning software
- FinalCut pro
- GIMP (linux-based photo editor)
- HTML and CSS
- An understanding of how our Student Information System works (PeopleSoft)
- A general understanding of databases. I have actually created a simple database-driven web site, but I wouldn’t want to do that on a regular basis. It’s harder than it looks.
- Knowledge of the field of educational technology. I need to know the latest research and understand what experts say about the effects of technology on learning. Best practices in integrating technology into different disciplines
- Basic understanding of instructional design. People get whole degrees in this, but I understand the basic principles. We don’t actually do instructional design, really, at our institution.
- Understanding of web design principles and standards.
- RSS, XML
- Some system administration skills–modifying the apache configuration, setting file permissions.
- A smidge of php.
- How to use search effectively. I can’t tell you how many times Google has helped me solve a difficult problem.
- Various web 2.0 applications
- An understanding of how above applications are affecting education and learning
- Excellent writing and communication skills, especially the ability to communicate technical information to non-technical people.
- All three major operating systems–Mac, Windows, and Linux
- Streaming media creation and serving
- How to connect various hardware–digital cameras, scanners, palms, iPods–to various kinds of computers.
- How to scan slides, photos, and documents into appropriate formats and at appropriate quality levels.
There’s lots more, I’m sure. But I think sometimes faculty (and others) who tend to have a narrow area of knowledge don’t quite understand the scope of what I do. Many, many people believe I have one of two areas of expertise. And while it’s true that I have a greater depth of knowledge in some areas over others, I still need an understanding of things (like system administration) that I’ll never be an expert in. I feel that this broad knowledge is not something that’s always valued in academe–at least not on the faculty side. But maybe I’m wrong about that?
Via The Chronicle, I found this editorial from a librarian. In it, he suggests that librarians are moving away from dealing with books and actual reading and focusing on information literacy, meaning navigating information in online databases and on the web. He calls this teaching “computer skills”:
The buzzword in the trade is “information literacy,” a misnomer, because what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love of reading and books.
This is the common framing of technology vs. books, as if understanding and appreciating technology naturally precludes a love of reading. In the eyes of people like Mr. Washington, he’s in a zero-sum game where books and computers can’t *really* live side by side. It’s why someone in my position is looked at with skepticism because I’m one of those people who wants to take away books and make everyone read everything on a computer or better yet, watch the YouTube version. This is all completely untrue. I certainly don’t think books are going anywhere. I’m an avid reader myself. My whole life I’ve been an avid reader and a technophile. However, I will say that you can’t ignore what’s going on with technology. More and more people, especially high schoolers and college students, are getting their information on the web. Librarians are uniquely qualified to help students sort through all that information. If they just direct students to books, then students will be missing out on a lot of information, information that may very well be more relevant and more recent. Is it really a librarian’s job to inculcate a love of reading in students? Isn’t that a parent’s job? Or maybe an English teacher along the way? And is it the end of the world if someone doesn’t want to read Bleak House? I’ve known lots of people who don’t read “literature,” including most of the people in my family. They still read. Mostly they read mysteries and popular fiction, magazines and a daily newspaper. Yes, the NEA report says that reading is declining, especially among the 18-24 crowd. Many people in this group are required to read for school, much more than I remember being required to read when I was in college. I also remember not having time to read for pleasure in either college or grad school. I’d like to see another study about reading online. Do people now read more online? And maybe this whole thing isn’t a problem with technology, but a problem with our society generally not encouraging leisure time. I’m willing to join the fight to encourage more reading when librarians (and I know many who already do) will admit that navigating and being critical of web-based information is equally important.
I was somewhat successful yesterday although I had to force myself to focus at one point and not check email. As part of my GTD plan, I try to only check email first thing in the morning, around lunch, and just before I leave. But it’s sometimes hard to ignore, that little tone that lets me know another message has arrived. I really want to reread the GTD book again. I feel like there are parts of the plan I’ve forgotten about.
One thing I did that usually works for me was to actually schedule a couple of tasks I had been putting off. I have a lot of semi-ongoing projects that if I don’t make time to work on them, I will ignore them. They have no end date and very little impact, but they still have some importance to someone–things like documentation.
Though I managed to stave off panic yesterday, still it sometimes seems like I have way too much to do.
It seems a long time coming, but classes finally begin today. I was thinking last night about where I am with my GTD system. I’ve decided it needs some work. I really want to feel like nothing’s falling through the cracks. I still often feel like I’m rushing around, putting out fires rather than focusing on what’s most important. With my email box largely under control, I need to tackle my physical inbox and I need to review all my projects. The challenge in doing this today will be obvious. The first day of classes is generally pretty busy. Can I function in a “normal” mode today and keep some perspective? We’ll see. One thing that complicates my ability to be zen about busy times of year is the attitude of those around me. Very few people just take things in stride. They all run around like chickens with their heads cut off. This creates a panicked atmosphere in which it’s hard to remain calm. But I’m going to try. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Naked Conversations, by Shel Israel and Robert Scoble was not a good book. I wanted to like this book. I like blogging. I think businesses should open up to the idea of blogging. I’m interested in what’s going on in business blogging. But this book didn’t really add anything to the conversation. Instead it offers some examples of both good and bad business blogging and pretty much standard caveats about how to handle blogging.
Perhaps the reason I didn’t like this book is because I am not its target audience. The audience seems to be business leaders, ceo’s, pr and marketing people and mostly people who don’t really understand what blogging is. Since I know what blogging is and how it’s changed a lot of what I do, I obviously didn’t need the information the book provides. So maybe someone who’s clueless about blogging might get more out of it. However, I also didn’t find the book very well written. First of all, it has two authors but it tries to have a single voice. In a book that’s supposed to be about conversations, it’s ironic that it has no sense of conversation. In trying to have a single voice, it has no voice. At the beginning of the book, the authors reference Cluetrain Manifesto, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. CM also has multiple authors. Rather than trying to mesh the voices together into something monolithic, each author gets a voice. I think NC would have benefited greatly from this approach. I want to hear Shel and Robert, not “The Author.”
The best section of the book is the “Doing it Right” section. Here there’s a list of ways to blog effectively. The suggestions offer here make sense but won’t be new to anyone who’s been blogging.
If you’re in business and want to blog, rather than reading this book, I’d suggest just reading a bunch of blogs and getting a sense of blogging that way. If you want to understand the foundation upon which the idea of business blogging is built, read Cluetrain Manifesto instead. It’s a better read and more effectively conveys the change that the Internet has had on business.
Most of the reviews at Amazon are positive, but here’s one that echoes my own thoughts:
“This book falls in the category “airport literature”, i.e. written for managers who like to be updated on topics and lingo.”
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Although I’ve seen a couple of interesting presentations, I have to admit I’m kind of bored with this conference. Unlike academic conferences where the same people tend to show up year after year, the nature of these conferences is that there’s not that camaraderie. There are a couple of familiar faces, but for the most part, the people change from year to year. People leave these positions after a few years and often go on to something completely different or to somewhere far away. Also, though we’re all from the same area, our institutions are so different, it’s hard to relate to people. For example, I went to a presentation by Temple on building a new collaborative lab environment. It was a $16 million project and there were 640 computers and 150 software packages. That’s a scale I can’t even imagine. I haven’t been particularly impressed with the sessions on teaching and learning. No one’s saying anything new or they’re geared toward distance education. And they’re all (with one or two exceptions) too focused on the technology and they’re not even thinking about pedagogy. The question that comes up at every session, though: how do we get faculty on board/involved? And of course, there are no faculty here to answer that question. We’re talking in a vacuum.
Maybe I need to move on to a different conference. I’m skipping a session right now because there was nothing of interest to me and I’ll probably skip the next one. The teaching and learning track is offering something on using an intelligent agent to provide Blackboard help. I don’t really want to know about that.