Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Airborne Again

OK, this is the last trip for awhile (and normally this meeting is earlier in the month). I'm headed to DC for a National Archives electronic records meeting and there are always interesting discussions and insights from all - not only the DC internal agency bureaucracy but from the influential people representing a diversity of public and private sectors sitting around the table.

And, can I say, I love Midwest! They were able to find me an exit row seat and so I don't have to sit with the back of a seat in my lap like on the last two Southwest flights - it's unusual to get behind two inconsiderate people in a row (leaving the seat ALL the way back even when they are resting their head forward and not even touching the back of the chair). My seat doesn't recline but at least I'll have space in front of me.

We're staying near L'Enfant Plaza which has quite a few restaurants and interesting activities. Time to board.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Denver Airport

The conference went well although a few presenters didn't show up that I had hoped to hear. We had more in the audience than on the panel - and that's something for the last session of the last day.

We had some good food and met some interesting people but I am certainly looking forward to being in my own bed - for at least two nights, that is.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

RateMyProfessors.com and Student Ratings

Flypaper: Ideas that stick from the Education Gadfly team: "The website RateMyProfessors.com has been the subject of much criticism as it has grown in popularity. For instance, a professor from Central Michigan University ran some numbers and found that “the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they’ll get rated as a good teacher.”

Inside Higher Ed reports today, however, on a couple studies that have found high correlations between RateMyProfessors.com and official university student-evaluation systems:

A new study is about to appear in the journal Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education and it will argue that there are similarities in the rankings in RateMyProfessors.com and IDEA, a student evaluation system used at about 275 colleges nationally and run by a nonprofit group affiliated with Kansas State University.

What is notable is that while RateMyProfessors.com gives power to students, IDEA gives a lot of control over the process to faculty members. Professors identify the teaching objectives that are important to the class, and those are the measures that count the most. In addition, weighting is used so that adjustments are made for factors beyond professors’ control, such as class size, student work habits and so forth—all variables that RateMyProfessors doesn’t really account for (or try to account for)."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

American Historical Association Blog: Teaching American History with a Global View

American Historical Association Blog: Teaching American History with a Global View

Interesting discussion here - esp. in the comments.

Denver Here I Come

[object HTMLImageElement]: "Conferences

50th Annual Conference
Celebrates our Past, Present, and Future"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Redbuds in Bloom

We had a short period of rain today and it now officially smells like spring. The redbuds are just gorgeous.

I emailed the city again this morning about the drainage blockage dating back to some construction behind us over a year ago. About an hour later, I saw a city car out front and had a nice conversation with people who seem to understand what needs to happen so that I'm not living in a swamp.

And there was the potential for more good news but the mud flaps I've been waiting 11 months for did not fit in an acceptable manner even to the GM service techs. There was double-sided sticky tape and gaps that would not only collect dirt and gravel and road debris but also encouraging the paint finish to get scraped up. So, back on went the generic mudflaps. The engineers have just had trouble resolving the new style running boards with the mudflap design.

Another situation is resolving itself and I am not left being the bad guy and have been in fact thanked for my extensive efforts on behalf of this organization.

I was able to get in some more heavy duty weedeating but will not head out to the farm given the hail possibilities. I had hoped to hunt for morels since they seem to be popping up all over. We're not supposed to get any super warm nights so maybe I can find them next week.

The best news from yesterday is that I finished all my grading even though it took me until after 7pm to do so. But I came home without that weighing on my mind. It's continuing to amaze me how students think grades are a debate and how students spend more time gaming the system and losing in the short term instead of understanding that the instructor operates on more than just raw points. But sending a 300-word email about less than 5 points is probably not a student's best option - but pointing that out to them only creates more havoc. So, I offered to do an entire regrade of all assignments and adjust all late papers instead of just this student's latest one. He's forgetting how much slack he has been cut and so arguing about 5 points that won't actually make a difference in the hundreds of points being offered is just not the best option. It's also interesting to see how some students think just by doing the work and meeting minimum standards earns them an A while most of us consider that average, or C.

I'm off to the Western Social Science Association meeting in Denver tomorrow. An econ colleague is going with me and two old friends and at least one new friend that I met at the OAH will be there.

Oh, I talked to Doc the other afternoon about Beau and Maggie. I pushed hard enough that he finally said he'd like me to get a puppy so that I have more influence in forming their personalities. It's made me think a bit more along with the advice he gave about how to check them out before I bring them home. I'm supposed to talk to their foster mom tonight and hopefully that will help me come closer to figuring out whether I am better as a one-dog house or a two-dog house. In any case, I have a room reserved for the first weekend of the month and will hang out with friends in St. Louis after I meet the dogs and do some thinking about what works best for everyone involved. This is so hard but worth it in the end. I can't believe I haven't had a dog at home for 5 months . . . it just doesn't feel the same - even though I'm trying to stay busier than usual.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Back Home

Trips to Baltimore (gorgeous spring in bloom) and Dallas went well. Getting from Balt. to Dallas was hell, however. A side stop in Omaha (NOT on the route) because of t-storms and running out of fuel. Missed connection but made next flight. Plane at gate and additional four hours because of line of storms. Planes were coming in right and left at Love field when I arrived - and this was at midnight. Thank goodness major prof brought Mexican food home from the dinner I missed and is a night owl who didn't mind picking me up late.

It was fun being recognized as one of UNT's outstanding alumni and seeing my grad professors that haven't retired. Seeing Bob Caro talk about his work on LBJ was inspiring as well the talk on Lady Bird by Jan Russell. Caro walks across Central Park to work every morning - what a way to start the day!

The Denton Benefit League ball was also a great time had by all.

But I never been so glad to be home in my life.

Today's the last regular (non-test) day of my in-person Modern America class and my last set of assignments for the online class. Student teacher visits are complete - just reports to finish.

A cardinal is hanging out in the branches in front of my office window - a truly wonderful site of nature. Need to get out and mow before we have 3 more days of rain . . . .at least it's good exercise.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Taxes are in, grading is done, classes are taught and prepared and now it's time to be off to Baltimore and then to North Texas for an alumni event.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Morning

It's a beautiful Sunday morning - one more night of freezing temperatures. I saw the deer as I went to eat steak last night - it's so funny watching them trying to figure out if you are a threat from several hundred yards away.

Yesterday was productive in planning business-related travel over the next few weeks. Getting the grading done Friday night was a big relief. But there was some recovery time needed yesterday. And I did get some more ivy transplanted. Hopefully we have no more huge rains coming this spring. But, we are just starting tornado season.

I'm headed to the humane society. This might be the last weekend given the schedule and looking for a new dog.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

A different angle on Facebook

Apparently one of our students has started a Facebook group focused on how they hate climbing the stairs in our main building on campus that also houses my department. How do I tell them that these are the same students who drop each other off at the front door and drop each other off and pick each other up for class while complaining about the price of gas. A few semesters ago I had to explain to a student that their apartment is more expensive close to campus because the expectation is that you will save money on gas because you might walk to class. And, yes, we have the students who drive to a school parking lot that actually means they walk a further distance to class than from their apartment. . . . .


Through the Grading Wall

With a sustained effort late into the night, grading is at last done. Just a bit more content planning for the rest of the semester and the time will fly by.

One of the features my university does not have is a gateway and/or checklist for students to review prior to taking online classes. Some students are still having trouble just saving and sending files correctly - even with specific instructions. The "digital natives" definitely only know their personally-relevant pockets of tech info and aren't always as "eager" to learn something new that has to be done a certain way to work for everyone. For example, to keep track of student work that is submitted as Word or PowerPoint files, they are expected to follow a specific naming paradigm. If the assignment directions are in a Word file, I name that file the same as they are to hand in with an "xxx" in the file name for them to replace with their initials. But, guess what, it's not unusual even late in the semester for them to send me a file that has defaulted to their title on the first line of their file - something unworkable when you're dealing with groups of 20 to 30 files of the same assignment (ie you can't have 25 files that say The_1920s.doc and keep everything straight.) And, despite
putting a heading on the actual page that says "Your Name Here" and "Date Here", they often erase that or, I'm guessing, start with a new file and forget all the guidelines.

Whether the students plan to teach or to go into other careers, they will run into network systems that have definite rules that don't take files and/or input that "almost fit". And, students have several ways to not only check that the file is named right on their computer but also to confirm it was submitted correctly. I highly suggest to them -not- to do anything but browse for the file on the computer and NOT to put anything in the blank boxes on the dropbox screen (we've gone from Blackboard to ANGEL on my campus). The early common mistake was to "name the file" in the blank box "correctly" but send me a file without their initials or the proper file name. And, I try to encourage them to use Open Office if they don't have Microsoft Office. The Microsoft Works people don't seem to understand how to do a "save as" and then send me a file that has .doc.wps which means they haven't followed directions and have typed in the extension instead of chosing it. Even pointing them to online videos doesn't seem to work. I'll just keep revising my instructions and once they don't get points for a file I can't easily open, they usually figure it out. And, once they figure it out, there is usually a chance to resubmit based on previous work. But I think the main issue is that most who take online are still not aware of the tech required despite the up front info I give them and also think it will be easier than an in-person F2F class. Of course, some of these same students are surprised when there are books required for their online history course.

Yesterday I received a friendly email from one our tech-savey librarians who didn't realize he was suckered into helping the student who refuses to learn and keeps finding new people to help him. Of course, this student forgot to tell him that he had a whole folder of information on blogging in his ANGEL site and that we had spent class time on it earlier in the semester. This student found it easier to go to complain to someone than review the material. He also made it clear from previous comments that he hadn't been regularly accessing the course ANGEL site as stated in the syllabus and multiple times in class.

Today I can focus on some more fun aspects of my work. A colleague with whom I'm working on a grant project just called and updated me on what I need to know for my trip to Baltimore this week. I then go from Baltimore to the University of North Texas for an alumni event. Should be fun and my first non-stop (Baltimore to Denver) flight in years. At last with Southwest it should go smoothly.

We're having one last bout of winter weather and I'm enjoying my last fires at the farm. There are clouds but no rain, thank goodness. It looks like it will be another week before the morels are up - we just simply haven't had the warm spring days to get them to pop.

And, I'm going to have to figure out how to get rid of that armadillo that was rummaging around the front yard last night. Argh!

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Friday, April 11, 2008


grading grading grading grading . . .. . .

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sunday in the woods

More morel hunting yesterday but later online research indicates we need some more warm days before they will pop. So, maybe next weekend will be a fruitful harvest of morels.

I spent a few hours at the humane society again. The university's biology club was there to walk dogs and play with the animals - it was a great day to get them outside. I also helped the shelter put their upcoming mall adoption dates on their website. Hopefully these will be more and more successful when people see these great animals just looking for a home. Andy, the Cairn Terrier, let me sit and pet him for awhile although he didn't want to know he liked me. Most impressive, however, was Dr. Pepper's peering out at me when I was sitting with several groups of dogs in the middle glassed in area between the main office and the kennels. I asked Aaron about getting Dr. Pepper out and he said he had probably been overstimulated already. But, just before I left, Dr. Pepper let me pet him through the kennel gate door. What a sweetie.

It was also a great day to do some outdoor work so I mowed for the first time and took my second big stab at the heavy duty blade weedeating along the back fenceline. My second trip to get gas (this time for the weedeater) proved to be very beneficial as I ran into my plumber who was able to get me connected on some other repair problems I'm dealing with. He does a great job - he sends people in an emergency right away and, in return, I give him a window of opportunity when I do things like poor a burned batch of candy I'm making down the sink and ruin the garbage disposal (at least it was 15 years old and not brand new).

This morning has been spent grading given that I am apparently not enticing the grading fairy to show up.

P.S. I'm actually beginning to feel like I have actual weekends like the real world and don't feel overwhelmed with working the whole time (although grading was bearing down on me - but everyone needs occasional breaks - esp. given the breakneck pace of last week. . or it could just be because weekends are a normal expectation of a working adult . .. ;-) )

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

In Search of Morels: The Creek is Running

I spent some time yesterday walking around the north side of my property - there is a creek I don't remember being there but was a great discovery given that it takes water to produce morel mushrooms. I'll have to ask the neighbors if they are finding any morels yet. I have yet to find them on the farm since I've had it. It's truly an art and the secret to finding them is not readily shared. My guess, however, is that the deer and turkey get them before I can even look for them. Then, I spent some time getting the logs and limbs from the two large trees we cut in back. We didn't realize til we tried to cut on them this last fall that they were still growing so they are cut into pieces to be easier to cut in smaller pieces. But, now that the 4wheeler is running again, I was able to get move some of it up to where I will burn it eventually (since obviously I can't burn in the woods near the house). The landscaping has held up relatively well given the large amounts of rain - which is hopefully good for growing. I will soon start bringing over some more ivy from mom and dad's to help contain losing more of the dirt. A never ending battle with nature - I just wish I had realized what was happening when I first moved here. I can tell I haven't gotten out here enough lately - it's great for my mental health when I am here. In the last month or so, I've just had time to run out to check on the basic upkeep, spend the night, and go home.

Today I'll do some grant writing work, some grading, and some fun, fun housecleaning. The last two tie for being the most fun. I just get so frustrated when students choose to not review the directions before submitting assignments and miss easy points.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Back in Kansas

It was a great OAH meeting and TAH Symposium but now I'm catching up at home - esp. on the grading. I'm still looking for the grading fairy, BTW, in case anyone has seen her.

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