getting things done…

This past weekend was my first one home in SoCal since the holidays.  It felt so good to be able to attack the long list of “to-do”s that were waiting for me, that I kept at it all weekend.  Among those was tidying my closet (and making rainbows of my scarves & sweaters):

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I planted a few seeds in the garden, enjoyed a long outrigger paddle out on the ocean with my team, spent quality time with Catgirl, ran errands, and had plenty of sleep and homecooked meals.  Not to mention the several loads of dirty laundry that are now clean and put away.

And…I got caught up on all of my snailmail and paperwork, including the many (many) financial forms for the kids’ college funds.  Then, at lunchtime today I filed both my federal and state taxes(!)–the earliest ever.

Whew.  What a great feeling, to have accomplished so much.

time for reflection

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

“We don’t have any time for reflective practice,” explained my brother-in-law, a junior high school science teacher.  He went on to say that he and his colleagues were just barely keeping their heads about water with their teaching loads so they rarely had time to thoughtfully consider changes to their methods or curriculum.

This was in response to my telling him that I had just finished teaching for the semester and was in the phase of considering what had gone well and what I’d like to change for the next time around, and was amending my syllabus accordingly.  I hadn’t considered before that this was a luxury, to have time for reflection at the end of the term.  But I suppose it is–I only teach one class at a time because the rest of my day is spent on administrative duties.  So that one class garners the lion’s share of my mental attention and I consider each of my successes and frustrations in the classroom fairly closely.

This was on my mind as I read AHA President Ken Pomeranz’ article “Some Habits of Mind Historians Keep Hidden” in the recent issue of Perspectives.  Like my research practices, most of my teaching practices tend to be “hidden habits” rather than techniques that I discuss often with colleagues or friends.  And I plan to change that, because I’ve had some rather remarkable experiences in the classroom during my time at Chapman, and I’d like to discuss some of what I’ve learned–in the hopes that it will not only be of interest to my readers, but also to help me to improve my own teaching as I reflect on what has worked best for my students’ learning.

any way you say it…

Reading Boone’s post about the pronunciation of his name made me think about how people say my name….

I was raised as Jana with a hard J.  When I got to high school my friends played a joke on our chem teacher and told him that I was a foreign exchange student from Czechoslovakia and that my name was pronounced “Yawna” (apparently I did not then know enough English to speak for myself).  That nickname stuck and I was Yawna or “Yawna Banana” to my high school friends.  I loved that name and how playful and foreign it sounded to my ears.

When I went to college I became Jana, hard J, again.  Though I was rarely Jana to my ex (only in the most serious of conversations), I was not Yawna again until a few years ago, when my social circle expanded to include many European friends and colleagues.

I love being Yawna.  Again.

my cyborg form

This video shows a team of designers rebuilding clothing mannequins to resemble differently-abled bodies.  It’s a moving story, well-worth the few minutes it will take to watch it.

For me, this video highlighted the oddness that I sometimes feel when techs are building the “cosmesis” of my prosthetic leg–the sculpted form that creates the structure to give my metal innards a symmetrical form.  They trace my organic leg and then shape firm foam into a matching shape, shaving it down a bit here and there to make it look proportional, and then we test it under clothing to ensure that the fabric flows smoothly and doesn’t bunch up around the knee or gather in odd ways at the hip or crotch.  In this process they build me a cosmetic leg with all of the requisite properties of leg-ness, despite it being a completely function-less addition to my body.

Due to still being in a phase where my new prothesis is being adjusted often (like today, it’s just started making a clanking noise as I walk around corners–time to go back in and figure out what’s going wrong), I’m not wearing any cosmesis at all.  The asymmetry between my legs makes most clothing looks a bit strange, such as when the right pantleg of my wool trousers flaps back and forth in the wind as I walk across campus, or when I am sitting in a meeting and my right knee comes to an obvious narrow point instead of being neatly rounded like my organic leg.

And while I think my bionic parts are uber-cool looking, at work I rarely wear short skirts or other clothing that shows my metal innards.  Because it’s so much easier to “pass” than to have my body be a spectacle to passersby (or colleagues or students).  I’m not at all embarrassed of being cyborg, but it adds a layer of inconvenience to my interactions that I prefer not to introduce in my professional setting.

But on the weekends, it’s a different story.  Then I wear short skirts and sandals and enjoy letting my robot hang out there for anyone to see.

shadow, at the beach

shadow, at the beach


just one step at at time…

When we went out shoe shopping recently, Catgirl and I took a rather odd detour from the parking structure to the shopping plaza.  We went up the stairs and then up and down the wheelchair ramps twice.

You walk so fast now, she said.

A few weeks into wearing my new Plie 2.0 robotic leg and I am, indeed, a faster walker than before.  Particularly downhill–the mechanics and control algorithm for this new leg making downhills so smooth (c-legs, on the other hand, are pretty choppy on the downhill).

In addition to wearing the new knee, I’m also wearing a Fitbit device to mark my number of steps and activity level.  My graph over the past two weeks shows some pretty dramatic changes from where I was several months ago (my daily step average increasing from 3483 to 4819 since August):

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I’ve noticed only one small glitch with the new knee and that’s that when I have a long stretch of evenly-paced steps, after a few hundred paces it will hiccup a bit and I’ll end up dragging my toe for one step.  I imagine that this is some kind of firmware bug that can be ironed out.  But it’s a small glitch, and certainly livable except that it tends to affect my full trust of the limb (for the few steps after each hiccup I find myself reticent to put my full weight into a step).

Overall, the new knee technology is even better than I imagined. I still limp and I’m not (yet) running hurdles, but it’s a dramatic improvement over what I had before (yay, technology).



The “ought” of technology

This post from Cyborgology piggybacked nicely on some thoughts that I’ve had recently about the use of technology by faculty at my university.

My thoughts arose from an experience with an adjunct faculty member who came to my office for help in building a robo-graded exam on Blackboard.  In working with her for just a few minutes, I realized that she didn’t know what a web browser was or where software like Blackboard “lived” (she thought that because she created the exam on Blackboard on her laptop, that her students would somehow be remotely logging into her laptop when they took their Blackboard exam).  The upshot of this visit to my office was that she left still fairly confused about Blackboard (my outstanding explanation of servers, notwithstanding), but with a functioning exam that was set to deploy for her students to take at the appointed time.

After pondering my interaction with her for awhile, I began to wonder whether the model of Academic Technology as it works at most universities is flawed.  We automatically give faculty a login to our courseware regardless of whether they’ve attended any trainings, and we provide basic “getting started” tutorials that give faculty just enough click-by-click instructions to begin using it for teaching and assessment within just a few minutes of logging in.  As a result, few have any level of mastery at the technology.  And this approach leads to many problems, which are compounded by the seriousness of administering grades and coursework through a platform that they barely understand and can’t troubleshoot on their own.

As I thought in this vein, it occurred to me that another (perhaps more effective?) way of providing support for Academic Technology would be to do hand-on trainings of the technology first, and then have faculty who would like to use the technology pass a proficiency exam on that software before they receive a login that would deploy their courseware.  While doing that sounds like a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare (and I can just imagine the resistance to attending the training meetings), at least faculty would have a much better sense of what they’re getting themselves into when they start using an LMS for distributing their course content.  In fact, I would say that faculty “ought” to have to have acquired some level of proficiency with the software before they use it, as quoted from the article above:

The ought, I argue, is a carefully curated relationship with technology, one in which the social actor has access, know how, and above all, control.

Because when a technology enters the classroom, it changes teaching and it changes learning.  And instructors ought to be cognizant of this as they’re structuring a learning experience for their students.

But at the same time, I wonder if we ought to pile one more responsibility on the heads of our stretched-thin faculty.  Perhaps the ought should read something more like this: only faculty who have the inclination and motivation to integrate technology ought to use it in the classroom.  Others ought to continue teaching in the ways that they know best.