In a Fog

•June 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

My mind is a blur of topics this week, so hopefully I can make something coherent?

Moving past a starting apology, the Information Design class I am teaching just got done looking at Words.  Being able to convey the message needed by your audience often requires words more than anything else. A tool available to any one writing the information is the Fog Index:

Time and Gumption permitting, I’ll go back through any and all of my posts so far, and report back the results, perhaps as soon as next week.

For a Monty Python-style, “and now for something, completely different…”; a question with some pondering statements, in a Thoughts Out Loud style:

Does building something require blowing something up?

Can we view life as a collection of Lego blocks, where each person gets a limited supply (some more supplied than others). We can building something cool, maybe even share some blocks with others in a collaborative effort.  But at some point, do we face the choice of staying with what we built, or taking it apart to get the resources needed to build something else?  Does this explain why life has times of triumph, sensations of boredom, periods of strife and rebuilding?



•June 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It was another good week in the Information Design class.  Part of what we covered dealt with knowing your audience, as it is hard to make decisions about how to design the information, if you don’t know who are the folks who need to know the information.

A tool used to help personalize this process, is to move beyond some simple demographics, and into personas (a social role or character):

Initially, these seem like some positive tools, which would be helpful for my technology area at SBU to keep in mind.  Persona representing Joe and Jane Student, Faculty, and Staff would help with knowing the audience we are trying to help.

Moving out from their use of for Information Design, personas can start becoming more problematic.  It might be one thing to think of our personal brand.  But how often can a persona become the character we are portraying?  If we play the role we think is best or most advantageous, will we forget who we are?

When it comes to being who we are, the extremes seem to be brutal honesty, or being completely hidden within a persona.  Could the world as we know handle everyone being purely themselves?  Does that mean doing what we want when wanted, with no consideration for others?  Is at least some minor forms of personas needed for a civilized society?

Design, Informational and/or Instructional?

•June 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I am now a few weeks into teaching a great class, Information Design, for Empire State College.  My thanks to Phylise Banner for letting me know of the opportunity, making introductions, and designing a great online course for me to enjoy during 15 weeks!

One of the early readings used for the class is a web site, and this part in particular caught my attention:

While Information Design is “concerned with transforming data into information, making the complex easier to understand and to use”, what is said on the importance6 page above blurred right over to Instructional Design for me.  Experiences.  That is at the heart of a great class, on any topic.

I’m tempted to start railing on the “experience” all too common in higher education today; come students, to our campus, have a seat in our classrooms, we will lecture at you, as if pouring out our knowledge upon you, as a pitcher unto a sponge.  What more typically happens is water rolling off as if on a duck’s back.  Instead, let me back up one more little page from the site:

“Information is the beginning of meaning. It means nothing until you do something to it.”

Yes, we are living in an information age, and that means the importance of memorization and rote recital is diminished.  But we cannot just try to tread water on the flowing river of information.  Those wanting to learn, and those who are teaching, cannot just stare upon, or hear words about, some chunk of information.  What will I do with the information, what will I have my students do to experience  what this information means, implies, enlightens, debunks?

Is it Hopeless?

•May 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Are PEBKACs the New Zombies?

This is the question that came to mind for me earlier today, after some recent experiences.  Understand, before sharing with any and all readers, two things:

  • PEBKAC = Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.
  • Lord knows I’ve been a PEBKAC more times than I care to count.

Much of what I do for my “day job” (for lack of a better term) involves support of users.  I’ve been doing so long enough, I tend to think I’ve seen it all.  Nothing can surprise me.

But these recent experiences have reminded me how Life can always do Something New.  One involved watching someone use, the most difficult way to do anything with a computer (or  seems so from my perspective, at least).  Initially disturbing, but I did attempt to make sure to do a fair amount of letting the user fish, after showing them how to, or having to do the fishing myself.  And I did appreciate the user’s determination to learn how.

Then today.  Wow.  After hearing a snide comment about how instructions we (Instructional Technology) had sent out were wrong, I had to start asking questions to figure out where the problem was.  My reward for the effort? I had to explain how to access the Help for an application.  Not, not the Help for the web browser, you want the Help for the service you are using via the web browser.  I had to Help someone recognize the right Help.

Providing support requires being able to seek and find the source(s) of problems.  Where does the problem exist?  Pushing past the symptoms to the cause is what allows for a cure to applied.  The problem can be the keyboard, or anything it connects to.  It can even be the chair.

So why (again from my perspective) are so many users not willing to investigate or admit the problem is them?  They know something is not working, but seemingly choose to point to anything and everything but themselves.

I made the Zombie connection, because of a growing sense of doom; no signs of improvement.  If anything, getting worse.  Not just at work, PEBKACing and being unwilling/able to self-recognize seems to be winning.  This, and watching the movie Pandorum this weekend, which was basically Zombies in Space.  🙂

For the sake of hope, I know I’m really, honestly, not any better than anyone else at this.  I’ve got just as many PEBKAC tendencies as the next person.  And many of my problems involve other areas beyond that small space between the keyboard and chair.  I might even use this small space as a hideout from those other areas.

All I can do is try to be better, no different from anyone.  I can also do better at understanding and sympathizing for others doing the same.  Unlike the Zombies, we can all help each other to be better, less problematic to each other.

Here’s to hoping that next week, I can just techno-geek about something cool and awesome.

So I Missed Last Week

•May 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I have to confess.  I did not make a post before Tuesday May 11th 2010 came to an end, in any time zone on the face of the Earth.

Sitting here in a moment of quiet for a Monday morning, I am not sure of a topic.  But quite sure I may not have time and gumption to spare between now and the end of the 18th to find and write about a topic.

And, I am even more sure I do not want to fall out of the weekly blogging habit.

So, this is not much. But better than nothing. Which is something?

I did eat cake yesterday for @highlyillogical‘s graduation party yesterday(16th), if that helps make amends?  Not sure if I ever did so while on camera, though (tall dude, bearded face).

Perception versus Reality

•May 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

My first sign of this being a wacky day happened before I could even get out of the house.  I open the front door to leave, and there in the front yard stands one of our two back yard black lab dogs.  She kindly comes inside the house, while I check to make sure the back yard gate is closed/latched (it is), with the other black lab hanging out in their doghouse.  Since the coast seems to be clear, I let her out into the back yard.  Still not sure what happened, as I write this.

Things started out OK at the office. I was successful at getting a microphone change made in the Sells Board Room, and rewarded my efforts with a longer walk around campus to return to my desk.  Where I proceeded to make karmic payments for my excursion, apparently.

The HVAC units for the library have been out for some time, with large parts of that hardware stored in a hallway shell outside my office.  There have been efforts made to clear some of that hardware out recently, but this later morning, the serious remodeling work began, with vast amounts of sawing.  Extremely loud, bothersome, annoying-at-best sawing.  Between this and the typical overheating in my office (I’m lucky if the room starts at 73 in the morning, with the door left open and a fan running, usually 77 by mid-day), I decided to bail to a conference across the hall.  While cooler, the sawing is echoing in all of the ducts, and cascading down the airway passages in the dropped ceilings.

Fortunately this loud part is done before two classes start in early afternoon with our ITV rooms. Having just barely inhaled a lunch, folks show up to use our computer lab, which I had sort of known about but forgot was today.  So I have to kick the folks using the computer lab out and into the conference room.  Leaving me nowhere to go but back to my office.

Oy vey.

By my perception of it, a very odd and nearly useless day at work.  Not much I can point to and think, “yes, I got that done.”  This, combined with a shocking bit of news and insight I got around mid-day, has encouraged me to write towards one of the philosophical areas I’ve had on my blogging list; perception versus reality.

I tweeted an Anais Nin quote on Monday, which speaks toward the problem I see us, as humanity, having with our perception.  I believe being able to think beyond and outside of our self is one of our great qualities and abilities.  While I’ve had moments of being able to do so myself, I am just as guilty as the next person, if not more, of seeing things as I am, not as they are.

The mid-day revelation I had, mentioned above, was a rather Matrix-like moment of emerging from the cave to be shown the sunlight of reality.  It caused a mix of emotions and reactions; irritation at being duped, appreciation of the efforts being made, curiosity to see where this will lead, and so on.  Overall, a good experience, with no harm nor foul.

In my line of thinking, Reality is like what the story of the blind men and the elephant portrays.  Reality is big (to put it simply), and even if we just examine some smaller part of it, there is benefit with gathering the findings and experiences of several and synthesizing that into at least a better community insight about Reality.  And yet, I’ve encountered and endured folks whose line of thinking, stated in so many words, is “My Perception is My Reality”.  As if that makes it OK?

If that is how it works, each person is traveling through Life in their Bubble of Reality.  If we bump head-long into someone who has an opposing perception, tensions go up and sparks fly.  We seek others in bubbles of similar colors, traveling in similar directions.  And then travel in packs so as to more easily brush aside those folks whose perception is in opposition to our own.  If our pack seems too small for comfort, we’ll try to convert others to share in our perception of what is real.

So, to quote Morpheus, “What is Real?”  While I wish we all did better at seeking and appreciating  the perceptions of others, to improve our understanding of Reality, perhaps this is too idealistic? While I know my dog was, in Reality, somehow outside of her usual location this morning, I have no perception of how such a thing came about.  Even though much of this work day seems, from my perspective, to have been of little use, perhaps the Reality is different?  Which of these questions, if any, should keep me awake overnight?

So, what do you teach?

•April 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It is a line I would hear a lot from some folks and family, once I started working in higher education years ago.  The presumption being, if you work at a university, that must mean you are teaching.  I would attempt to explain I worked in computer support, and in later years instructional technology.  If confused looks still seemed to be underway, I’d offer the “I teach the teachers” line.

For most of my time working for a university, I would not have been qualified to teach anyway.  To teach undergraduate classes, you need at least a Masters-level degree.  Want to teach at the highest levels of higher education?  Now you need a doctoral, terminal degree.

{Isn’t the phrase “terminal degree” just creepy and wrong, in many different ways?  Death, end, over, finished, nothing more to learn?  As if that is the way Life works?}

But a few years ago, I was encouraged to attend our Graduate Education program.  I was very blessed to get one of the best teachers ever for a really fun topic on the class I used for a trial run.  Convinced I could do this, I built onto my B.S. in Computer Science with a M.S in Education, specialized with Instructional Technology Leadership.

I emerged in May 2006 with a new degree, soon followed by an old sense of deja vu.  I thought I would soon be able to teach for someone, somewhere.  Much like I thought I would get Computer Science related work soon after my undergraduate degree.  I did get to teach one of my ITL classes in the summer of 2007, but still could not find other teaching gigs.  Many resumes submitted to all the places you’ve heard of, offering online classes and not needing teachers to be physically present on the campus.  I was just about convinced it would never happen.  And made some other Big Decisions in Life based on this conviction.

Soon after, of course, is when I finally got my first serious follow-up.  Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Online Division, offered me a chance to teach one of their General Education classes, CPU101 Computer Literacy.  The year 2007 ended on a happy rewarding note.

I did the required training in early 2008, and just as soon as the next session of classes started, I taught my first CPU101 class.  I was reading through the texts as the students needed to, doing the assignment file work as they needed to, making sure I was immersed in what they needed to know and do.  As I write this, I’ve taught for over two years now, usually two classes each session, with 20 students in each, and 8 sessions in a given year.  It’s been great, and still is.

Recent news on the teaching front for me is how even more teaching is on the way.  The SBU ITL class I’ve taught twice before is being offered this summer to a smaller subset of students, in an online 3 weeks mode instead of the usual 2 weeks with half-days spent in a computer lab.  And, without naming names or locations at this early stage, I hope to be teaching what looks like a really cool class for a good friend, in less than a month.

After giving up, letting go, and trying to move on, the things I was looking for, finally happen.  It is a funny little pattern I’ve experienced more than once in my life.

I grew up on a farm, and watched as so many of those who were farming for a living, also worked a non-farm, full-time job.  Taking vacation from the job to be home on the farm to get hay cut, raked, baled and put away seemed like a rough way to go.  I probably thought it to myself more often than saying it out loud, but it seemed clever on my part to get good grades, get out of that rural hometown, and seek an education which would lead to one singular well-paying job.  I’d put in my 8 to 5, commute home, relax in the living room comfortable chair, reading or watching TV, then go to bed at a decent hour.  Wash/rinse/repeat until the weekend, when I could really relax and do as next to nothing as possible.

Since the time of my starting that Masters degree, I’ve not known anything like this.  Being a student is extra hard work, as it does not pay well.  But at least now, for giving up most of my evenings and weekends, there is financial, and more ethereal, rewards with the teaching I do.

I’m still not sure which I would choose, if I had to, between what I am doing now.  The university staff, technology support work I do Monday to Friday 8 to 5, or the teaching work in mostly online environments.  Money no object, the teaching would be fun, work from home stuff.  Which seems odd for me to say, as much of a techno-geek I am, who gets to use that like and comfort with technology to have fun will earning a living in the full-time, Monday to Friday 8 to 5 mode.

Work for a university has to be some of the nicest you can find.  And that is some of what happens when teaching online for a location hundreds if not thousands of miles away.  But living on adjunct work only, not really knowing for sure if that work will be there after just a few weeks or not, without any of the full-time benefits, does not seem a very sensible choice at this point in life.

Which makes daydreams of tractoring around the farm completely ludicrous.  Right?