This one month, post-a-day blogging challenge only has a few days to go, and likewise my summer “vacation” ends in a week. Next Tuesday classes will begin and life will go back to more of a routine. I put the finishing touches on my syllabus today and tomorrow it will go out to the printers. I have a few meetings this week and next Tuesday will be the first time I leave the house before 8 AM in over 4 months.
We have done a lot around the farm this summer, we have managed to go on several fun trips: people got married, kids had birthdays, mountains got climbed and lakes got swammified, but still I would love for the summer to never end. Hell, I’d take the snow and staying home. I am very lucky that I have a job that gives me a lot of flexibility time-wise. Only about a quarter of my work week is “gotta be there right now” time and the rest can be pushed back or forward to fit around life.
I didn’t really have this plan in mind going through school, becoming a teacher and having a big family, but am I ever glad this is where life has taken me.
With all the help I give to students that could keep them from coming to class I have been back and forth over what to do to entice them to come to class. Will it be the carrot, or the stick? Do I reward the students who come to class or penalize the ones who don’t? I have tried giving an attendance mark, based solely on if they use their clicker or not, I have also tried giving them a mark based on if they attend and if they are getting the questions right. The problem I ran into is that I have seen some students with multiple clickers in their hands, answering for a friend who is probably sleeping in that day. This is an obvious and hard to stop way to scam the system. Also, one student in last year’s evaluations made a good argument that a poor student doesn’t care about the 5 or 10 percent they can get by coming in, and a good student who can succeed without coming to class is just getting penalized. I took this to heart, as I’d rather not force students to come who don’t need to, I just want to encourage them to come as it is always easier to learn by physically attending class and some students need that litle nudge to come in every day. So what to do? This year I am probably going to go with the clicker attendance, but I am also giving students an opt-out option. If they want they can have the weight put on their final and it doesn’t matter if they attend class or not.
What do you think you would respond to as a student?
I got an email from a student today. She was letting me know she was considering buying a voice-recorder for lectures but wanted to make sure I would allow it first. Probably she was sending this to all her instructors, not just me.
One problem that all big institutions face is the age stratification of the employees. A factory, a hospital, a school… there are the new ways vs the tried and true experience constantly being thrown together. This girl probably will have some instructors who are 60-65 and have been teaching for 30 years. They will have started out using a blackboard, slide machine, overhead and then into computer technologies. There comes a point where you might stop and say,” Who cares if I adopt some new method, it is the same content!” and then you might add a bah-humbug for good measure. There are possibly teachers on her list that will say, I don’t want you taking voice recordings of my lectures, you can take notes in class like everyone else. I actually carpooled to a meeting across campus last semester and sat quietly while a few seasoned professors groaned about students wanting copies of their powerpoint notes, great for them for using powerpoint, but why keep the notes back?
Here’s how I approach lecturing. I make up my powerpoint notes for my next lecture and then print the slides out as a PDF to put up online for all my students. Many of them will print it out a few slides per page and take notes over top of my slides. I use a tablet PC and use the pen to annotate my slides while lecturing, I even have hotkeys to change the color of the pen (RGB CMYK and W). I keep the annotations and then re-print the slide deck into a PDF and put up this online to supplement the original. Also, I wear my own voice recorder with a lapel microphone so that no matter how I twist, turn or move the sound quality is always good. Lastly, I use a screen capture program which records the laptop microphone and screen so that all the annotations are captured in video allowing a fluid re-visiting of the lecture. I then import the external audio capture and sync it in and upload it as an MP4 so students can watch it online or on their mobile devices. Lastly… I thought I was lastly already but one more things came to mind, I use a student response system which allows me to put multiple choice questions into the middle of the lecture, poll the class and have them “lock in their votes” so I see if students are understanding a concept before we have moved on to something else. With all this I have considered that if too much in-class material is put online then students might be more likely to just sleep in and catch up later, but so far it has been working well.
The drawbacks… some students probably take worse notes because they think I’ve got it all up there and they can just be an audience, they don’t understand that an active participant is more likely to learn the material. Also, any time I screw up (yes, it happens a few times a year) it is immortalized for all eternity. Lastly, it could be used as a way to check up on me by my superiors that can’t be used for faculty that don’t have any non-handwritten record of the lecture. These things don’t really bother me, I think the technology augments class well and hopefully, when the next big technological advance comes along I will still be fluid enough to incorporate that too.
When I started this blog it was a place to vent a bit about work and give some updates to friends. This humble blog had a humble name, it was simply “blog” because I didn’t really have any audience or purpose in mind other than updates to a small handful of people. Over the last couple weeks, as I was thinking about the summer blog challenge it came to me that I might actually have something to say, I have opinions, I do interesting things, and if some random person was to ever read this blog it should at least have a name. The other realization that came a few weeks earlier, that lead to the one we have just discussed, is that I now have a hobby, something I enjoy doing in my time not working or just being a Dad. A decade and a half ago I was an avid reader, but I don’t have the time or drive to sit and read much anymore (I blame grad school for that). For a long time I didn’t really have any hobbies to speak of, I didn’t play video games, I wasn’t a huge fan of some TV show, I didn’t play sports, I wasn’t a member of some club… between work and family that was most of my day. When we moved to the acreage we had some plans to make more of it than just a big empty space; well, at least Erron had plans to make it more than just a big empty space. All my life I have been a tinkerer, I used to take apart toys, I would rip apart anything broken and more often than not troubleshoot it back to life. Most of my lab equipment in grad school was stuff I fixed and the combination of a tight wallet and common sense taught me about the basics of woodwork, electrical and plumbing. As we have started to make this acreage a farm I have found many opportunities to challenge myself in coming up with ways to use what past generations have left for us lying around to return to a useful state.
So, if I’ve got something to say it will probably be something that can be put into one, or several of the categories that have been made into the name of this blog. I am a teacher, I am a tinkerer, I am a farmer and I am a geek. These skills have gotten me this far, and I probably have a few stories to tell, so welcome to the repurposing of my blog.
Wow… looks like my last blog post was a few days after we moved into the house and here we are about 10 weeks later, man I must have been busy or something…
I’m not here to blog about trivialities, although life has appeared to speed up and the week goes so fast I can hardly anticipate the weekend before it comes and once it does it seems gone before I know it. No, this is a post about something more nefarious, MEDIA FEAR!
My facebook status today has been:
Y2K, terrorists, anthrax, SARS, bird flu, west nile, swine flu… I wonder what it will be cool to be afraid of next year.
And really, doesn’t this seem to be the case? Are we “Generation Fear”? It is obvious that the media can’t cover everything in this globalized time we live in, and media cycles so fast that a hostage situation one day becomes a faint memory 2 days later. What will keep the sheeples attention then? It isn’t death and disaster, that passes after a few days, it isn’t triumph and joy, that gets old even sooner. News is about gossip, celebrity, outrage and fear. More has been said about “balloon boy” or Kanye “Asshat” West than things that really matter or make a difference to YOUR life.
And this of course brings us to a favorite ponderance of mine – “Honey-One” or H1N1, or the pig-apocalypse as the media calls it. There is a definite us versus them attitude when it comes to people talking about vaccination, and what is your moral obligation to help protect your family and community. Here is my take on it:
I have had one flu vaccination in my life, I have also had the flu 0 times in the last 15-ish years (my memory isn’t what it used to be). I have a bit of an understanding about vaccination, and I generally believe it is a good thing for diseases which do not evolve rapidly (if it is ONE thing I know, it is genetics, bitch, check my PhD!) But with the flu the powers that be are taking a few isolates that they figure will predominate in the next year and putting all their eggs in one basket as it were. They make a vaccine that will protect you from viruses that are a snapshot in time, maybe 6 months to a year un-evolved from the state where you will likely meet it. If the virus has changed, you will still get sick, indeed estimates are that vaccination is only 75% effective. Part of this lack of effectiveness is also that fake infection (aka vaccination) does not truly mimic what happens in the body during a true infection. A sustained viral infection allows the body to come up with many novel antibodies and T-cells that will recognize both viruses and virally-infected cells in your body and destroy them. The sustained presence allows those cells that make good immunity to be signalled to divide so they have good numbers if ever needed again. It is my belief that this true immunity gives you a better shot at making some lasting antibodies, ones that will be effective for years to come instead of being “disposable” and useless next year. Then there is the theory of “original antigenic sin” which can be simplified as saying your body makes an antibody against last year’s model and when it comes time to defend the body it launches a failed proliferation of shitty antibodies instead of trying to make new ones that will work.
So now that we’ve given some reasons why vaccination is not really a great alternative, let’s at least ask why we should vaccinate against H1N1. Let’s see… initially cases in Mexico were quite deadly, particularly in young, healthy people instead of the usual senior/weak crowd. But, that isn’t the case anymore, it appears that this flu strain isn’t really anything special compared to seasonal flu, it has taken a “chill pill” for those of you who like analogies. If that is the case, that if I get swine flu, I am no more likely to die than if I just got regular flu, and I don’t believe the regular flu vaccination is necessary, why have I been back and forth over considering an H1N1 vaccination for myself?
That’s really it, all the hype and fear have made me second guess my well-informed decision not to vaccinate myself. Damn you, pro-fear media! Well, I’m not going to have any of it. I am going to avoid the vaccine, and keep risking that if I do get sick I’ll get better and have an even more capable immune system as the lasting legacy.
Are people who get vaccinated dumb? No, they are taking a gamble that the flu they get exposed to is the same one they got vaccinated against which is probable. Especially for the old or infirm where any flu could be deadly it is wise to get vaccinated. Are people who don’t get vaccinated crackpot conspiracy theorists? Maybe, but some are also well-informed deep-thinking and considerate people who just think mass-frenzy isn’t the way to public health.
And one last point before I get off my soap-box. It is a possible scenario that H1N1 mutates a bit to become both more virulent and different enough from the vaccine-strain that a vaccine doesn’t help. In this case false-security will be more detrimental than the common sense of staying away from public places (sorry, Christmas shoppers) and covering your face when you sneeze.
It is also possible (and more likely) that people who catch a less-virulent strain will recover faster, or just be bed-ridden less and they will be the ones spreading the virus to more people compared to the really sick ones who become isolated. This will give us some nice Darwinian natural selection for a flu that makes you sick enough to help it spread but healthy enough that you get out there and spread it.