Monday, March 3, 2014

Slice of Life: Technology as friend and foe

Today, we had yet another snow day. That's the 10th this year. I'm at the point where I'm torn on these "days off." On one hand, I'm happy to not fight with the weather, and I like to have the slower pace I can take at home. But really, these aren't "days off" for me as I tend to work to try to catch up on planning and grading (as with most of me peers, I'm more reactive during the school year than I like to be).  Also, I worry that my students will leave with fewer opportunities to think, discuss, and write than they might need. That's the perpetual fear of most teachers--did the students have enough time?

I also tend to use these snow days to experiment with technology because I want to give students something to do to make sure that we don't lose all two weeks of instructional time. My juniors are supposed to be taking their end of course writing test this week, so I used Google Drive to create space for them to review some of the grammar concepts we had discussed and plan for the writing prompts in groups. I also opened up a space for them on Blackboard to allow them to ask questions about the prompts and to get suggestions about approaches from one another. I suspect some of them will benefit from these online collaborations, and I certainly appreciated seeing them edit their writing to address pronoun reference issue and noting which prompts they found challenging.

Today also gave me a chance to try an add-on that allows for voice commenting on Google Drive. Kaizena allowed me to open students' documents, highlight portions of their text, and record comments to share with the students. I managed to comment on 4 papers, once I figured out the general interface. Three seem to have gone well, but the 4th doesn't seem to want to share my voice comments. I didn't discover this until I had spent several minutes on comments that I may be the only one who can see. And, unfortunately, Kaizena's documentation is non-existent. All that there is are some articles on older versions and a video tutorial.

The insistence of companies to substitute video tutorials for actual manuals makes me more than a little crazy. I cannot always use a video tutorial. Watching a video takes time and attention. I may be searching for a quick answer (as I was today) and skimming a manual for the answers I need is so much faster. I may not be able to devote my attention to the video, especially if the software is one I'd use while I taught. Or, I may not be able to play something I'd have to listen to because it would disrupt others around me.  Videos aren't a substitute; they are a supplement.

So, while I like Kaizena in concept, I'm not sure that I'm willing to devote much more time to it until the documentation improves. I still like the idea of voice commenting, especially when I can use the comments as instructional, but I'm going to look elsewhere for a tool that will be easier to implement.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slice of Life: New starts

Sometimes, it's easy to get so caught in the day to day scramble that things get dropped. This blog is one of those things.

So, what has consumed me? Well, a new PhD program, for one. During last year's Slice challenge, I wrote about the idea of this program and a meeting I attended of potential students as part of the accreditation process. I loved the idea of it, but I knew I wouldn't be able to leave the classroom to be a full-time student.

Then, on June 3, I got word that the program had been approved and would be accepting applications for the fall 2013 cohort. The online application would be available on 6/15, and the deadline would be 7/10. After a nervous couple of weeks, I found out I wouldn't have to that the GRE due to the tight timeline. What a relieve that was for me, as I haven't taken a math class since the late 1980s!

Of course, I was still in the midst of the school year, which didn't end until late June, so I couldn't even think about working on my package until after the application was available. Starting on June 24, the first day after school ended, I went into overdrive:
  • requested all of my transcripts, 
  • spent a short forever making my resume into a curriculum vitae, 
  • went digging for old academic, professional, and personal writing samples
  • requested letters of recommendation, and 
  • started working on a personal statement.  
I even managed to convince a friend from the Northern Virginia Writing Project to apply, too.

By July 9, everything was in or on its way, and by July 26, while on a road trip, I received the following:

Dear Christine: 

Congratulations!  It is my pleasure to inform you that the Committee on Admissions has approved your application for graduate admission to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences' Writing and Rhetoric - PHD program for the Fall 2013 semester. The following will assist you in confirming your admissions offer and in getting you started as a graduate student.

I was ecstatic.

I'm on my second class now, and I'm challenged to find time for much else. But, I'm also stimulated and engaged by the learning and happy to be part of a wonderful community of students in the first cohort. The cognitive dissonance of upending everything I am doing with everything I'm learning gets overwhelming at times, but my peers and professors talk me off the ledge. I feel pretty fortunate, even when I'm exhausted and crazed.

The funny part is that I am still blogging as a requirement of my current class. It's just that this hasn't been the forum for it. At first, that troubled me. But, now that the Slice of Life challenge is back, I think I'm ok with having that separation.

Here's to as much slicing as I can fit in!