Changes ahead!

Steampunk Bantam

(and no, the change isn’t just that I’m posting to this blog again!)

I’m delighted to report that, beginning next month, I will be the Director of Educational Technology at Trinity College. This is an exciting opportunity to work closely with faculty, librarians, IT staff, and others to support Trinity’s liberal arts mission. (And of course I’m extra-pleased to know that there are already folks who have some downright ProfHackerish ideas!)

It turns out that I will apparently go anywhere that prominently features a steampunk representation of its mascot.

This decision was a difficult one: I have enjoyed my ten years at Central, and will miss my students, colleagues, and friends, although since Aimee continues in the English department, hopefully I won’t be a stranger. (And we will still live in the neighborhood!)

There’s no denying that this is a big shift: I was asked “Why would you want to give up being a tenured full professor?” in literally every meeting I had about this job. And it’s a little unsettling to move directly into an administrative position immediately after my term as union president ended. Aimee said, “this is a great job for you, and I definitely think you should take it. But I wouldn’t want it for myself.” (To be fair, the bit she particularly didn’t want is the part about “starting in June.”) In thinking about such a move, it turns out that it’s good to have smart friends who are good writers: Kathleen Fitzpatrick has recently written a great post about doubts, so I don’t have to reprise it here. The same week, Anne Trubek’s article on “Giving Up Tenure: Who Does That?” ran in the Chronicle, and explained that it’s really not so unthinkable a move.

And it’s not just that I’m giving up being a professor, or giving up tenure. I’ve said some tart things about the educational technology industry in the past, which I still stand by. And I still count Audrey Watters as my chief guiding light on a lot of this. But I think that this particular job, and the way that it’s been framed by the CIO, will give me a chance to do some good things.

To some extent, the scope of the change actually makes it easier: it would be even weirder to move into conventional academic administration, or to take any sort of similar role in the state system. All of that said, I had not been looking for a new job when this all started, and so there is still a wee bit of adjustment to get through . . . after grades are submitted for the spring.

I am excited at the opportunity to learn new things, and to work with the Information Technology Services group at Trinity!

Posted in connecticut, higher education | 2 Comments

From Satiric Dystopia to State of CT Policy in 20 Years

One of my favorite quick jokes in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) is when Y.T.’s mom reads a memo about toilet paper regulations. Because she works for Fedland (what’s left of the US government), the memo includes an estimated reading time:

Y.T.’s mom pulls up the new memo, checks the time, and starts reading it. The estimated reading time is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office at 9:00pm, she will see the name of each employee and next to it, the amount of time spent reading this memo, and her reaction, based on the time spent, will go something like this:

  • Less than 10 min.: Time for an employee conference and possible attitude counseling.
  • 10-14 min.: Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing slipshod attitude.
  • 14-15.61 min.: Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss important details.
  • Exactly 15.62 min.: Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
  • 15.63-16 min.: Asswipe. Not to be trusted.
  • 16-18 min.: Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung up on minor details.
  • More than 18 min.: Check the security videotape, see just what this employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).

Y.T.’s mom decides to spend between fourteen and fifteen minutes reading the memo. It’s better for younger workers to spend too long, to show that they’re careful, not cocky. It’s better for older workers to go a little fast, to show good management potential. She’s pushing forty. She scans through the memo, hitting the Page Down button at reasonably regular intervals, occasionally paging back up to pretend to reread some earlier section. The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading. It’s a small thing, but over a decade or so this stuff really shows up on your work-habits summary.

When I first read this novel twenty years a while ago, this sort of exaggeration seemed self-evidently preposterous. Surely, my younger self thought, no one would tolerate such a ludicrous mechanism for making sure people spent time carefully considering policy.

But this year, my campus is rolling out an online version of sexual harassment training. This is not a post where some male academic complains about having to do the training. Actually, I think I have good reasons for suspecting it’s a good idea. I’m on board with the training, and want to be sure I know about the policy.

But then, then I got to this screen:

The Pace Meter

The actual training includes things like interactive quizzes and “what would you do”-type situations, which all sounds great. But it turns out, the thing that really matters is that you “spend at least two full hours.” I especially like how the Pace Meter claims to measure whether you’re spending those hours “learning the content,” which is of course impossible. All it knows is whether you’ve had the web app open for that long.

So, younger self, there you are: It will take just about twenty years–maybe less!–to get from the satirical dystopia of Snow Crash to official state policy.

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In which the Met tells poor people to suck it

Display from the Met

Lest there be any doubt about the class loyalties of the Met:

As the burden of service and taxation fell increasingly on the humiliates, they sought relief either by fleeing from the land or by finding solace in the promise of religion. But while we might feel sympathy for the plight of the average Roman in the third century A.D., it was the rich, educated, and highly cultivated honestiores who effectively preserved classical civilization and bequeathed it to the medieval and modern worlds.

No harm, no foul then, right?

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Adapting The Decemberists

Calamity War: Wizardry: Cover

The 8-yo spends a significant amount of free time drawing comic books (basically, whenever he’s not playing soccer or on his computer). And one of his favorite albums from the past year is The Decemberists’ The King Is Dead. So it is no surprise, probably, that he has made a comic book adaptation of their “Calamity Song” and “This Is Why We Fight.” His co-conspirator in this project was Alex Jarvis, who’s a co-founder of the comics site Spandexless (as well as his babysitter).

Here’re direct links to the pages:

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Banning Balls in School

The 8yo playing soccer with his cousin

Let’s take it as read that the public schools these days worship a false idol of “safety,” trying so hard to be risk-averse that they often end up spoiling kids’ fun and making it harder for them to learn. I’ve subscribed to Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids for years.

At the same time, this morning I felt the briefest twinge of sympathy for the Toronto principal who banned all non-sponge balls from her school (via electricarchaeo) after a parent got hit in the head with a stray soccer ball. (No word on the parent’s form in heading the ball–was it a flick-on? A nicely driven shot?) The policy’s wrongheaded and should be rescinded. But still.

Reading the story, I was reminded of an incident about a month ago, when the 8yo came home complaining that recess wasn’t fun, even though the kids were playing soccer. This was shocking, because he’s soccer-obsessed, and normally the chance to play would make anything seem appealing. “They’re blaming me for things that aren’t my fault, and it’s not fun.” We pressed him about what he meant, and it turned out that some of the smaller kids didn’t want to play if he did, and a girl had scraped something getting out of the way of one of his shots (which, to be fair, didn’t sound like it was coming all that close to her in the first place).

A few relevant facts: The 8yo is a sweet kid, who wouldn’t know how to threaten someone if he tried. That said, as the picture above makes clear, he’s a bit of a giant: nearly 5′, and solidly built. Plus, he’s kind of awesome* at soccer. He plays on travel and premier teams, 50% as a goalie, 35% as a defender, and 15% as a striker. Thanks in part to his size, he has one of the strongest legs on his (pretty successful) U-10/U-11 travel team.

My wife and I reminded him of all this, and of the fact that he’s the only kid in his class who plays that much soccer, and of the fact that he’s by far the biggest kid in his class. And we asked him to consider, if the situation were reversed, whether he might be a little scared, too.

We talked it out, and he decided that he would not kick the ball when his friends played soccer, but would just dribble and make short passes. He put the plan into effect the next day, and within a couple of recesses, all was forgiven, and everyone was happy.

Which is probably the way it’s supposed to work, right? Kids should try to work out problems on their own, but when they can’t, parents should help find a constructive solution. So I can’t support banning balls in school. But I do feel for a principal who feels overwhelmed by dozens of similar situations every day, sometimes involving kids who actually do intend some malice, and sometimes with parents who are disengaged. It doesn’t excuse such an overbroad policy: The fact that you can see how anyone might feel driven to do such a thing doesn’t mean that you should actually do it!

* “Kind of awesome,” that is, for an eight-year-old who regularly wears a “Geek Kid” t-shirt, of course. It’s not like we think he’s the next Tim Howard, or are counting on this to pay for college, or whatever. And, yes, there are people we’ve met in travel and premier who are already talking about positioning their 8 and 9 year olds for college scholarships. I am prepared to agree with you that that’s crazy.

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Why Your Twitter Person Needs to Be Older than 25


Flickr user wollombi / Creative Commons licensed

. . . otherwise, this happens:

First, Mark recommended the Diigo iOS browser:

@ @ Why wait? The Diigo Browser app has a share button built-in. (Seems like I should profhack this app....)
Mark Sample

. . . which makes sense, since he’s written about Diigo on ProfHacker. I replied,

@ @ The Diigo browser ate my baby. I can't recommend it.

which makes sense, because I’m an idiot. That’s when things got entertaining:

@ @ @ Could you let us know more details about diigo browser issue by sending an email to joel 【at】

Who knew that the joke was so obscure?

All of which is just to say that Diigo makes a very fine iOS browser, one which, to the best of my knowledge, is not responsible for eating *any* babies, Australian or otherwise.

Posted in silliness | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Draft Booklist for a Last-Minute First-Year Writing Course

Lego X-Men

Photo by Flickr user Rob Young / Creative Commons licensed

As I’ve whined on Twitter, my digital humanities class this semester was canceled*, and has been replaced with a section of first-year writing.  Since classes begin on the 24th,  I need a book order immediately, and a syllabus soon after.

My normal strategy in first-year writing courses, since I normally teach in the first-year experience program, is to make the class be about college.  We read a lot about higher ed, from a variety of perspectives.  And that works pretty well with first-semester students. In the spring, though, the students have been around for a semester, and I’ve never had good luck with that approach under those circumstances.  (And it’s not an FYE section anyway–it’s just a regular section of 110.)  I needed a new theme, and thought that comic books would be an interesting way to go.

Here’s the draft booklist for the class:

We’ll also do some webcomics, but I don’t know which ones yet.  (Definitely Vision Machine, though, since my 7-yr-old loves Greg Pak, and he secretly makes all my curricular decisions.) If you’ve got thoughts, let me know!

(I’ll acknowledge straightaway that the course is shaped to a certain extent by “stuff I know really well without having to do a dramatic amount of prep for, since ohbytheway I’m still union president, and teaching comp while doing that is going to be hard.” The course isn’t providing an introduction or a proper survey, but just enough to be interesting.)

*The course suffered from a perfect storm: it doesn’t count for *anything* in the major; it meets on MWF in the first semester of a new MW schedule (all classes with Friday sessions took a hit); and I wasn’t around in the fall to hype it, especially in light of the other two reasons.

Posted in books, CCSU, teaching | 3 Comments

New Mars Discoveries from Viking, 3 Decades Later


Photo by Flickr user NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center / Creative Commons licensed

A couple of months ago, I did a “This Day in Technology” piece for on the anniversary of Viking 2, and so I’ve been paying attention to Mars news.

This latter-day Viking discovery looks pretty cool:

Scientists repeated a key Viking experiment using perchlorate-enhanced soil from Chile’s Atacama Desert, which is considered one of the driest and most Mars-like places on Earth, and found telltale fingerprints of combusted organics — the same chemicals Viking scientists dismissed as contaminants from Earth.

Hope we go back soon, before these guys get all militant!

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My 7-yr-old understands the economics of higher ed

College costs more than your salary

Sorry it’s been a while: It turns out that simultaneously launching ProfHacker and getting elected union president had deleterious effects on my private blogging. But no more!)

On New Year’s Eve, the 7-year-old spent about 45 minutes putting together a board game version of Life. (Yes, that’s a homemade version of an actual board game, which he’s never played. But his grammy tried to sell him on the iOS version, and so he made up his own. Win!)

My favorite* part of the game is his representation of college (pictured), in which a degree costs $200, but the job you ultimately get only pays you $100. (Yes, he misspells “college”–it’s because he was drunk on sparkling cider for the holiday.) In the course of gameplay, it turns out that that $100 really is all college nets you, so it’s basically worth negative-$100 to have a fun drinking educational experience in your 20s. Welcome to the twenty-teens in America: Where the returns on higher education tuition are diminishing rapidly in the face of stagnant wages and morally shocking unemployment.  This picture will only get worse as state & federal disinvestment in higher education leads to higher tuition, a sort of hidden tax on future generations.

*Ok, my secret favorite part of the game is his representation of the legal system, where free speech costs $20 and being robbed gets you $200, but getting married *costs* you money. I’ve always said he’s a smart kid.

Posted in AAUP, academe, higher education | Comments Off on My 7-yr-old understands the economics of higher ed

A little site my friends and I put together in August

 ProfHacker IconIf you find yourself missing content at The Salt-Box, which I guess is possible, you can slake your desire here:

ProfHacker is a multi-author blog, edited by George Williams and I [see the comments before sending a grammar flame, please!–jbj], devoted to pedagogy, productivity, and technology, and the intersection of these, in higher education.  It’s super cool. (Don’t believe me? Try a search on Twitter for ProfHacker.)

Give it a read!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments