Friday, August 29, 2008

This week and the last century

Thanks to Cliopatria for the link to Bob Caro's essay on the connections between this week's events and the work of LBJ in a previous century.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thinking Aloud About Writing

I was able to bring a long-term writing project to the 90% completion point yesterday. I still struggle with a writing "process" - mainly when my day seems to fly by with teaching and other professor-type duties. I am a morning writer - primarily because I feel like if I don't have any writing done by about 11am, I won't get any done.

I keep asking people how they find time to write and how they get it done. I know the first important point is to sit down and start doing it. The blank computer screen still intimidates me but this time I was able to approach it more like I tell my students to do with their big assignments - think of it like a jigsaw puzzle with lots of pieces. You can't put the pieces together until you have some on the table.

The topic of my most recent project was a very large and long-range subject with which I have been personally involved since 2001. So, finding the focal point was difficult. And I'm coming to realize you can't always do that until you've explored what seem like a million other avenues first. I worked on finding additional articles and sources on Tuesday - which really energized me to move forward - especially after I figured out I had done everything possible but the final narrative writing.

I also have to teach myself not to be afraid to be repetitive in the draft stage. Much of what I wrote yesterday was rewriting my "jigsaw puzzle pieces" from memory. Now I realize I was only able to do that because I put the jigsaw pieces on the table in the first place.

Then, I have to think about how I would talk aloud to someone - and also not go off on too many tangents - at least not without connecting it back to the original point and/or narrative of the story.

I work best with my dining room table and everything spread out but primarily only books, articles, papers, and notes related directly to the project at hand - otherwise, I get too distracted. I remember having to take solitaire off my computer when I was trying to revise the dissertation for publication. All of the sudden two hours had passed (and I had also won only a few games of solitaire without starting over) and I had no writing done.

I feel more creative on my MacBook Pro and even figured out how to print on my home network. Easier than expected to set up although I did have to restart my Desktop Windows machine to be able to print from it again. But, because I wrote on the Mac, I will have to check the file I transfer over to the PC for those annoying little "dingbats".

Now I'm going to go out an get some exercise and NOT get a flat tire 4 miles east of town 2 miles past the blacktop. And then I have a fun lunch planned.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008


writing . . . writing . . . writing

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More on Back to School

For some reason, I'm less stressed than starting other school years. I think I have more confidence and a renewed outlook to enjoy the students. The main thing I seem to have more in the front of my brain is that there is only so much I can do as the instructor and the rest is up to the students. The old you can lead a horse to water but can't make them drink argument.

The mentoring meetings were interesting. I'm starting my 15th year at my institution and it was insightful to see what new faculty are being told about what to expect. The main thing I came away with is how department-specific all-around success can be. My new colleague possesses numerous types of experiences prior to his arrival and I have no doubt he will do well. That will be quite a change from the previous occupants of his position.

Our opening meeting was the most fun as always - getting to see people you may only see once a year. For my part, however, I noticed that I am no longer one of the young pups and have quite a long tenure here at 15 years. Our department meeting went quite quickly thanks to our chair and then we had lunch together.

Enrollment day was quite typical - no one came in but I did answer an email at 6:30 am (at home) and a phone call. My assumption is that online enrollment has decreased the numbers showing up in person for help.

The graduate class for grant teachers has their first assignment due this week so that they can finish by Thanksgiving. The short interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas is so hectic for teachers that it works out best for everyone that way - especially since they have already been in school for a couple of weeks.

I"m going to take a more relaxed approach to the teaching methods course and go through some more modeling experiences for them. The basic assignments will be the same but we will do some more collaboration and peer review - especially before turning in assignments. What I have planned will lead to ensuring they are even better prepared and my not killing myself with the such intense grading duties normally associated with this course. We'll see how it works.

We're also utilizing the newly available features in our version of ANGEL - the blogging and wiki functions. It will make it much easier for me to keep track of individual blog entries since they will be collected in one place. I also have a plan to stay on top of grading a bit better and not get buried too quickly - esp. if I'm spending more time grading an assignment than a student does in preparing it (as in the past).

I hope I am not getting old and cranky but just more realistic about the parameters within which I work. I need to focus more energy on the tasks that I can bet control the outcome - ie research and publishing.

I have a book project trip and a state conference in September and then in October I'm off to New Orleans and Miami for conferences/H-Net meetings and then Houston for a conference in November. I'll probably also have a meeting in November or early December. That will be plenty with having to be in New York for over a week in early January.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to School

Mentoring meetings were interesting. Our opening faculty meeting was quite dramatic when the university president announced he would retire at the end of the academic year. He will be missed - not only the good work he has done but the ten years he has been here.

Today will be busy explaining to students that they have to choose from what is left and that "nobody told me" isn't a plausible response.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Graduate Work as Professional Development?

An article in one of last month's issues of the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses our state's flagship institution's history department moving toward portfolios to replace qualifying exams for the doctorate. As author Paula Wasley states regarding her interview with Professor Eve Levin, "Historians are rarely called upon to work on a four-hour deadline without access to research or source materials, she observes. So it made little sense to evaluate students based on such an exercise."

We do not have a doctoral program but we do have a master's program that we have tweaked to better meet the needs of students as we discovered many students, including some of our best, had finished the majority of the degree requirements but put off the comprehensive exams for a variety of reasons.

It would take careful scrutiny to ensure that there was indeed reflective practice and established guidelines by each professor overseeing a particular field of study to ensure that portfolios were not the result of numerous cutting and pasting efforts from the internet. And, obviously, an online portfolio system with the possibility of a short printed guide would work best.

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"God and Jerk at Yale" - CHE

A guest editorial in the August 15, 2008 Chronicle of Higher Education compares the "personalities" of Ivy League institutions with "less" prestigious institutions and the students they matriculate. Having attended both private and public institutions during my college career, the article underscores something I began to learn in my early adult years - your education is what you make of it. I'm in a profession now who, even decades after your graduate, classifies you and/or judges you by where you earned your pedigree. . . . . I prefer the approach of what have you done with what you earned decades ago.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

2008 Olympics

This morning I watched the recap of Michael Phelps' latest Olympic win. I won >dered why Mark Spitz wasn't commenting on it given that every other former Olympic winner seems to be there. Luckily, this online entry answered that question. Spitz was a champion when the height of commercialization was having your face and a medal put on a cereal box. And, I agree with his quote in this entry that it wouldn't make sense for him to be there unless he was invited.

I've been watching the progress of Michael Phelps and am happy to see him doing so well. I had read earlier accounts about how he made the decision as a child not to suffer the negative side effects of taking medication for ADHD and instead figured out how to focus his energies in other ways. The only sport I could successfully compete in as a child was swimming so that is the Olympic sport that has always attracted most of my attention. And, the timing of the summer Olympics also played a role since they usually started just as our summer competitive swimming season ended.

The exception to the above was watching the 1976 performance of Nadia Comaneci and her scoring the first perfect 10 in gymnastics. The timing is also probably a factor here given that I was an impressionable not quite teenager at the time.

As I was writing this, I couldn't think of the name of the Olympic swimmer I remembered watching about that same time. Luckily, Google came to the rescue.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The End of Summer

It's the end of summer, or at least the end of "summer vacation". I'm trying to get everything caught up while also starting off the new year ahead of the game. This time last year I was busy getting ready for a non-academic job interview and that consumed quite a bit of my energy - considering changing course and all of that. (In the end, it all worked out and I didn't make the move. But I'm a firm believer in knowing that it's possible to make a change is what makes you happy in your current position. Feeling "stuck" is what makes you unhappy and it seems especially prevalent in the ivory tower world of tenure.)

Big book project has an imminent deadline and I made significant progress the last two days on a variety of tasks about which I was waiting to hear back from other people I'm also trying to keep the return to campus work at bay given that some of us don't realize not everyone is actually back. Usually I am on the road this time of the summer since it's my first chance to get away but I effectively managed that last month so I felt ahead of the game.

I'm at the farm right now. The only down note being that one set of folders was accidentally left behind but I made it less of a deal and will just have to do that catching up Thursday and Friday instead. At least I didn't leave behind the main laptop. That would have meant a return trip and I didn't have the energy for that.

I fit in some swimming today. I couldn't work outside because it was raining cats and dogs this morning and that made it take some effort to get Molly to do her morning thing. And now that it has dried out it is back up to almost 90 degrees so I will see what tomorrow morning holds. I didn't put out the granular weed killer given I was afraid the 30% chance of heavy showers might materialize.

Out here, I am trying to catch up from not spending much time out here since Thanksgiving. It was just too lonely without Shadow and, after adopting Molly, I had to give her time to adjust before going back and forth. She loves adventuring out here - I just have to keep her from straying off the beaten path too far since she's not aware that there are many more critters out here that would consider her a good snack.

I have a personal situation that is forcing me to be more patient than I've ever been and to NOT be my usual self and plan too far ahead. When I feel overwhelmed by it, I just try to concentrate on the task at hand and give myself a short time frame to make the next step and then it all seems to go away. I'm so used to just going after what I want but it's certainly not appropriate in this case nor will it achieve desired results. It will be an excellent lesson in not feeling like all of the responsibility is on my shoulders.

Meanwhile, back to school prep.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vacation in Vegas

My brother once again very graciously offered to take me to Las Vegas to celebrate my birthday. We stayed at my favorite spot and I thoroughly enjoyed the spa and the restaurants. The heat was a little much but to be expected. We ate at Prime - it was the first time we had eaten there and we enjoyed the fountain show as much as the outstanding steak and wine. I did some shopping at some specialty boutiques and it's quite convenient for them to mail my packages home rather than having to worry about finding room for them in the luggage. And, with postage being less than sales tax, it even saves money. The pastry shop at the hotel as its usual outstanding spot to grab breakfast and/or a snack.

And, the last day, I won $200 on the blackjack machine. Just don't ask what I lost on the previous days. . ..

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Great Plains in World War II

Attending Doug Hurt's presentation at the Kansas City Public Library last Thursday was both fun and informative. There was a good crowd - 70 people - despite a competing presentation also at the library.

Hurt discussed his latest book from the University of Nebraska Press: The Great Plains in World War II. The book examines the unique experiences of the those living in the Great Plains Midwest during this critical time in the nation's 20th century experience. His PowerPoint slides provided some specific examples of these experiences, including the airplane industry in Wichita and the farms of Nebraska.

A comprehensive regional history of this nature is not currently the popular norm in historical studies yet this book fits an important niche for a variety of interested professionals interested in history - including teachers, the public, and historians interested in economics, the home front, WWII, and regional and state histories.

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