Saturday, August 11, 2018

Time Strategies: Being flexible for whatever comes

Time is a real worry to me. Normally, I have a really good schedule and I'm very happy with how I spend my work time and personal time. But ever since my dad got sick last fall, nothing has been normal about my schedule and my time. I have a lot less free time, and I also have to be aware of the possibility that at any given moment I could have to drop everything to take care of something for my dad, which might also involve flying to Austin.

Last year was hard. This year is going to be even harder.

But I hope that doing the assignments for this class will keep me in touch with more creative activities; I really DO need to be creative every week. For my own well-being. My plan is to do the class work over the weekends, and I know a lot of students do that too, so I'll probably be on this schedule:
Saturday: commenting on people's blogs and projects from the week before, doing reading for the coming week
Sunday: writing my story and working on my project

Then, during the weekdays, if I find some spare time, I'll try to do some extra credit stuff, like Tech Tips and Wikipedia (which I really enjoy) so that I can build up a cushion of points for weeks when I actually miss assignments.

Because I know I am going to miss assignments. And if I get a C in this class, I'm not going to worry about that either: I always tell students who are dealing with a lot of pressure that just passing the class is a victory. And I am going to be under a lot of pressure this year...

For the article, I knew I wanted to re-read Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives by Oliver Burkeman. I remember being deeply impressed by this article the first time that I read it, and that was true again this time.  Caring for someone who is dying makes you think differently about everything, especially about time and what it means to have a lifetime and to have led a good life (or not).

My experience matches this part of the article most closely:
As with Inbox Zero, so with work in general: the more efficient you get at ploughing through your tasks, the faster new tasks seem to arrive. (“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” as the British historian C Northcote Parkinson realised way back in 1955, when he coined what would come to be known as Parkinson’s law.)
I really do always have things to do. And I'm pretty efficient at doing them. The real trick for me is figuring out what is BEST to do. And honestly, that is really hard to know sometimes. When my dad looks back on his life, he is most proud of the books he wrote. He published a book last year, in fact, the week before his 90th birthday. He keeps that book by his bedside, and he gets it out frequently to look at it.

If I get to 90, is that how I will feel? Should I try to find a way to retire early so that I can write the books I think I want to write? Or can I squeeze more writing into my life now, even while I'm working? And, if I can, should I...?

As the author says near the end:
Which paths will you pursue, and which will you abandon? Which relationships will you prioritise, during your shockingly limited lifespan, and who will you resign yourself to disappointing? What matters?
And if I do decide to write, and really dedicate myself to that, well, creative work demands a lot of time. Not necessarily productive time. Not necessarily efficient time. Patient time. Open-minded time. Slow time. Not watching the clock to even see what time it is.
“The best companies I visited, all through the years, were never very hurried,” DeMarco said. “Maybe they used pressure from time to time, as a sort of amusing side-effect. But it was never a constant. Because you don’t get creativity for free. You need people to be able to sit back, put their feet up, and think.” Manual work can be speeded up, at least to a certain extent, by increasing the time pressure on workers. But good ideas do not emerge more rapidly when people feel under the gun – if anything, the good ideas dry up.
As you can see, that is a paradox really relevant to this class too: I hope you will enjoy doing creative work for this class, but under the pressure of time (so much schoolwork, so much work-work, so much real life going on!), that might not work out every week. I've tried to provide a lot of flexibility and slack so that the creativity can happen when it happens. It is going to be a good experiment for me to see how the storywriting goes because, like some of you, I'll be working full-time while I take this class. And if I find myself rushing to write a story because of limited time, I know it won't be my best story. But it will be something... and some creative moments in my week are better than none; I know for sure that is true, at least for me.

Basically, I don't want to be squeezed like this: OUCH! (Illustration by Peter Gamlen accompanying the article.) And right now anyway it is a lovely Saturday and school is about to start, so I'm definitely smiling. Everything seems possible at this moment! The squeeze has not yet begun (as this long blog post shows, ha ha).


Technology: Tech Tips, new and old!

For this post, I am making a promise to myself to update the Tech Tips options this semester with new Tech Tips... I keep learning about wonderful new browser-based tools (my teacher friends at Twitter are always sharing things like that!), but I just find it hard to get the time to write up new Tech Tips for class.

Plus I really need to go through the tips and update them; the interfaces for some of these tools may have changed, for example, so my tips need updating. The YouTube playlists UI is different, for example, and the YouTube tips are really good ones, so I need to work on that.

So, once again, I am glad that I am "taking" this class. I will try to do a Tech Tip for extra credit every week, and when I do that, it will be a new Tech Tip that I can add to the list (since I already know how to do the old ones). And hopefully I can find time to update the old tips too.

For an image, I'll share this tweet from Alice Keeler: I must have bookmarked 20 or more tech tip ideas from her this summer. She is amazing! Here's one I want to be sure to write up: using Google Draw (a tool I've never even used!) to make memes:

Thoughts about the Assignments... and Extra Credit!

I really like the idea that I'll be doing the assignments for Myth-Folklore this semester. It's been a long time since I "took" this class and completed all the assignments, and over the years I really have made a lot of changes. To be honest, some of the assignments I got rid of are assignments I really liked personally (so I will miss doing them this time!) ... but that's the thing about learning: everybody learns in different ways, and not everybody enjoys the same kinds of assignments. I have tried to focus on assignments that most students will like, but I know that not all students will like every assignment. Here's a graphic from Alice Keeler at Twitter about that:

That's why there is all the extra credit! So if I decide I don't feel like doing both halves of the reading in a given week, I can choose to do Wikipedia Trails (I love Wikipedia Trails!) and a Tech Tip too. Or watch videos instead of read.

Anyway, I'm always encouraging people to try out the extra credit to see what they like in order to skip assignments they don't like as much and/or to finish early. I will probably be doing a lot of extra credit myself, especially Wikipedia Trails.

Wikipedia: it's a whole world of learning!

Growth Mindset: What can I learn this semester?

For my Growth Mindset blog post, I'm going to focus on the articles by Carol Dweck's critics and my thoughts about them. Adding these articles to the assignment is something new for this semester; even though I personally find Dweck's work very persuasive, there are also problems to consider, and these three articles address very real problems. I personally don't consider these to be problems with Dweck's work per se, but rather with the educational system in which her work is being applied. Anyway, I'm curious to see if people do read some/all of these articles and what they might say about them in their posts this semester!

Alfie Kohn: What We Miss By Focusing on Kids’ Attitudes
I'll confess this article made me feel terrible when it came out: Alfie Kohn is a personal hero of mine, and seeing him attack growth mindset like this was hard for me. What he is attacking here is the misuse of Carol Dweck's ideas to wrongly label students, blaming them for a failure to learn, as opposed to the way growth mindset challenges ALL of us, teachers and students (and administrators, and parents, and everybody) to learn things we didn't think we could learn and to do things we find it hard to do. But I have to admit: I have seen some really sloppy and misguided interpretations of Carol Dweck's work, and I am also troubled by consultants making money off superficial growth mindset interventions. I read here that with the $4 million dollar Yidan Prize for Education Research that she won, Carol Dweck is going to develop even more materials for educators, turning that prize money into something of value for us all: Founder of growth mindset plans to use $4 million from global education prize to pursue 'real-world implementation' of theory So I am very excited to see what we will see from Carol Dweck in the next few years as a result.

Rick Wormell: Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking?
I see this article more as a criticism of Angela Duckworth's work on grit (and I am not a fan of that at all), and I am honestly not interested in growth mindset being able to raise test scores and grades (I'm against grades and tests, as you might have guessed from the design of this class). I really appreciate the emphasis on equity in this article, but I disagree about the opposition between equity and growth mindset. To my way of thinking, growth mindset is a way to promote educational equity. I also disagree with the way that the author claims that Dweck is saying growth mindset is the sufficient and only cause of learning success. She simply does not say that; many factors contribute to learning success. What I like about growth mindset is that it tells me my BELIEFS about my success are an important factor, a dimension of success that I can work on to help myself move towards my own goals.

J. Luke Wood (audio interview): SDSU Professor Challenges Concept Widely Embraced By Educators
Luke Wood makes really important points about equity here too, and he raises one of the most difficult aspects of growth mindset for me as a teacher: how do I incorporate praise and positive encouragement into my feedback, while also identifying mistakes and problems for students to work on? I really want to encourage students in ways that promote their self-confidence without imposing my own agenda on them. This year, my main focus in this class is on improving feedback processes, so I will make sure to read some more from Luke Wood and add that to my Diigo library of feedback resources. Of these three authors, Luke Wood is the one who is raising questions that are the most relevant to how I try to use growth mindset as a teacher, and I'm looking forward to learning more about his work. I'm following him at Twitter now... as are thousands of other educators. :-)

And here's a growth mindset cat for learning more:

You can always learn more.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Where did my summer go? Introduction to a traveling online instructor.

I'm reviving an old blog here (something I created several years ago!) to try something new this semester: I am going to be a student in the Myth-Folklore course along with everybody else.

Does that seem too weird? I hope it doesn't seem too weird!

Here's what happened: over the summer, I started a new folktale project that is basically like the kinds of projects students do for this class. I had so much fun working on it during the summer, and I was worried that I would not have time to keep working on it during the school year... but hey: I can be a student in the class, and use the class to help me find time for storytelling every week, right? So, that's the plan, and I'll be using this blog to do work for the class. Unofficially, ha ha.

And now... the introduction:

As a (kind of) student in the class, I'm writing an Introduction post too! :-)

My name is Laura (and really, please call me Laura; that's how I'll be signing all my emails to you), and I've been teaching online courses at OU since 2002. Yes, that is a LONG time. My goal is to finally have been teaching long enough that students will show up for a class and I will be able to say that I have been teaching online for as long as you have been alive, ha ha. I've got just a few years to go to make my goal!

I also have to say that I really LOVE my job. Teaching these classes has been a way for me to keep on learning so much every semester thanks to all the ideas and questions that each new roster of students brings to the class.

The traveling instructor

In the post title, I called myself a traveling online instructor. Here's what I mean: when my husband retired from OU (he was in the Meteorology School), we came to North Carolina to take care of his elderly father. So I now live in North Carolina.

But my father is also quite elderly, and very ill, and he lives in Texas; he's actually on hospice care now. So, I go back-and-forth between Texas and North Carolina a lot, trying to spend at least one week there in Texas every month.

I feel very lucky that I've been able to keep my OU job and carry on teaching even while I have faced these difficult family situations. I'm guessing there might be some of you who are enrolled in this online class because you are also trying to manage some really big demands on your personal time while still pursuing your education. I am glad whenever online classes can make a positive difference that way!


In addition to all the back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth to Texas, I also went to Colorado this summer... for InstructureCon. That is the conference where Canvas users from all over the world get together to share ideas about Canvas. I will confess to being a very enthusiastic supporter of Canvas (I have a blog at the Canvas Community if you are curious), and it was an incredible opportunity to meet my online collaborators in person at this event in Keystone, Colorado. Here's me: I won a T-shirt; Matthew did the T-shirt art (photo at Matthew's Twitter):

And Colorado was just beautiful. You all know the panda logo for Canvas, right? They had a giant panda floating on a lake in the midst of the mountains (also from Twitter):

Some Canvas users are so into the whole panda thing that they have their own panda suits! Here's someone driving from Nebraska on their way to the conference:

There was a carnival on the last night of the conference, and they actually had a guy who got shot out of a cannon. Really! I was standing right by the net where he landed. 6Gs of gravity! Here's a video someone shared at Twitter:

Plus there were circus performers. I took this photo of the performers; they were amazing:

And of course it was just beautiful being in the mountains! This is a photo from Erin Hallmark who works for Instructure; if you ever used one of the "Canvas Guides" online, Erin is probably the one who wrote it. I was excited to meet her in person.

As you'll see in this course, I actually don't use Canvas in the usual way (you use the Gradebook on your own but I don't record anything there; the content is in everybody's blogs instead of the Canvas pages; we will have discussions in the blogs instead of the Discussion Board, etc.)  and that's one of the things I like about Canvas: you can use it in really different ways. Plus, it has pandas. :-)

So, that's a quick introduction to me at the end of this summer, excited to see what this Fall semester will be like. I hope you will enjoy the class!

Storybook Favorites, in which I get to revisit some old friends!

This was a fun assignment for me to do because of course I have fond memories of every single Storybook. What I did was to pick my favorite of the two items that showed up at random each time I reloaded the page.

So, the first Storybook I visited was Project Runway: Indian Epics Edition. This is a great example of someone who chose a different web platform (most students use Google Sites) to achieve her vision. The design element was really important, and so she used Wix to be able to feature the "runway" fashion images side by side with her stories. She also included a story about a historical woman, Noor Jahan, in addition to the mythological Ganga and Ulupi, which I thought was really cool (a lot of historical figures really are legends in their own right). I am still amazed by this project when I look at it now; it's really beautiful, which is just what this topic needed to be.

The next one I picked was Ladies in the Stars. This project shows that you can do gorgeous things with Google Sites too. And yes, from these two projects so far, you can probably guess that I really like the idea of using the Storybook Project as a way to re-tilt the stories in the direction of women's voices. By dealing with stories recorded in writing over the past 2500 years, we end up with a lot of stories told by men for men, since men controlled much of the access to writing for that time (but not completely, thank goodness!). In Storybooks for these classes, though, each writer has the freedom to work against that tradition, filling in the gaps and bringing out the women's voices (any voices, all the voices!), as here in this project. I remember my favorite stories were The Queen and the Princess where we get to hear from both Cassiopeia AND her daughter Andromeda. Powerful stuff!

(screenshot of Ladies in the Stars)

And then for my third choice, I was really excited when Legends of Fire came up!. This is an old Storybook, done with the old style of Google Sites (which is very clunky compared to the new Google Sites)... but what matters the most, of course, are the stories, and the stories in this Storybook are so cool! The idea is that there are four old dragon hunters talking together and sharing their stories: Deathly Dealings in Scotland ... Nagas, Guardians of the Gods ... Seven Heads from Hell ... Blood, The Natural Shade of Red. Dragons from around the world, and the men who hunt them. Intense! I was really glad that the Naga serpent-gods of India are part of this project too.

And of course I am excited to see what Storybooks people will create this semester. I already know what the focus of my project will be: chain tales. That's a style of storytelling used in countries around the world, and it is especially popular in India. Since I know there are hundreds of chain tale stories out there, my challenge will be figuring out how to narrow it down to just a few stories.

I'm also going to enjoy using Google Sites; there are a lot of beautiful student websites from the past few years where I can learn some good tricks to use at my site too. :-)

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Tucson, Cracow, Berkeley... My Favorite Places

Since I just could not limit myself to one place, I decided to pick three favorite places. Here they are!

Tucson, Arizona. I lived in Tucson in the 1970s when I was a little kid, and of the many places we lived, Tucson was my favorite. It is so beautiful! We lived in a house in the foothills of the Catalina mountains which you can see here. Aren't the saguaros beautiful?

(Sabino Canyon in the Catalinas:
Wikimedia Commons)

The saguaro blossom is the state flower of Arizona!

Kraków (Cracow), Poland. I did a "study abroad" in the summer of 1985 — and what an adventure! I was a Polish major in college, so getting to live in Poland that summer was a dream come true. After I graduated from college I moved to Poland and lived there for a while, near Płock (which is not far from Warsaw), but Kraków is the Polish city that captured my heart. Here's a picture of the "Sukiennice" ("The Cloth Hall") on the main town square.

(Stary Rynek: Wikimedia Commons)

Berkeley, California. The Bay Area is where I lived the longest (over ten years total), and I guess it is the place I love the most. For sure it is the place I know best. I moved to San Francisco after graduating from high school because it seemed like the most exciting place to be ... and it was! Then, after working as a secretary for a year, I decided to go to college, so I went to Berkeley. After graduating from Berkeley in 1986, I lived in other places, but for grad school I went back to Berkeley again; that was in the 1990s. It's a great place and is definitely a big part of who I am! Here is a beautiful picture that shows the Campanile (bell tower) on the Berkeley campus, with San Francisco Bay in the background.

(Campanile seen from the Stadium,