Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cheers!

Work is proceeding apace on the Touchpśdia, I've got two papers almost set for publication, and another getting ready to go to review. More than half of this writing will go directly into my dissertation so I consider that to be moving along nicely as well. Not a bad way to end the year! I start teaching again on January 3rd, so my holiday isn't very long, but I'm looking forward to the class and hoping that I can still get everything else done by spring.

It may also be getting dark at 4:00, but with no snow and mild temperatures it's hard to believe that it's nearing the end of December. Still, the winter solstice is tomorrow so here's wishing people up north a light that burns bright through this longest of nights--and to everyone, may your days be full of love and joy.

(The wicked Christmas illustration is by RaphaŽl of My Dead Pony - just one of the fine artists featured this month at the picture-a-day Thunder Chunky Xmas Project.)

Saturday, December 9, 2006

2006 Edublog Awards

Before I effectively disappear for the rest of the month I'd like to thank everyone who made Purse Lip Square Jaw a finalist in the Best Individual Blog Category for the 2006 Edublog Awards!

I'm honoured to be included in this year's shortlist, and was most impressed by the quality of blogs in each category - including Best Research Paper and Best Group Blog.

Please do check out the others, and voting is open from now until Midnight GMT Saturday 16 December 2006. And congratulations to all the winners!

Thursday, December 7, 2006

The sounds of silence

The rest of the month is dedicated to getting a publication out the door, finishing off some really interesting consulting work and, of course, to writing my dissertation. This means I won't really be writing or reading anything online, so if anyone comes across something interesting or fun, please leave a comment here or email me. Otherwise it's some strengthening yoga, some modified knitting, some warm cooking, and some good company.

In case anyone is planning on doing some pleasure reading over the holidays here's a quick list of the novels I most enjoyed reading this year (even though they were all published earlier): Brick Lane, The Crimson Petal and the White, Epileptic, On Beauty, The Passion, Perfume, Small Island. And I'm always looking for recommendations. Hint hint.

Stay warm.

Fleshing out, finally

I've finally gotten around to annotating my presentation from Fleshing Out in Rotterdam last month:

Of seams and scars: Tracing technological boundaries and points of attachment (pdf)

Looking at my notes, I see that it conveys some of the breathlessness with which I delivered my presentation, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. But I think there are some good ideas here, and I'm very grateful that I've been given the opportunity to further explore them for another conference in the spring. Anyway, I've received quite a bit of email that I'd like to briefly address by means of an introduction to the content. My presentation was about metaphor and materiality in "wearable interfaces, smart materials and living fabrics." My focus on scars completely ignored literature on the grotesque, although I was particularly interested in what scars actually mark. This is something I'll have to look into more. My focus on seams extended current approaches to ubicomp design by Matthew Chalmers and others by explicitly engaging the political and the ethical. So rather than just focussing on making technological infrastructure more visible, I wanted to start thinking about what kind of "infrastructure" we were talking about, and what kinds of politics and ethics that allowed. My presentation traces my early thinking along these lines and offers questions for further research. As always, comments and questions are welcome.

(cc photo by splorp @ flickr)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Here's the rub

I'm not usually very tolerant of other people's whining, but damn it, when I've got my own whining to do it's a different story! Feel free to ignore the following, although commiseration is always appropriate in these situations.

Okay. So I really really dislike having to work two jobs so that I can pay for tuition and rent and food, so that I can finish my PhD, and then the two jobs interfere with getting the dissertation writing done, so I end up paying more tuition and still don't finish. I mean, I try not to get upset when people I know tell me how hard it is for them to finish up when that's the only bloody thing they've got to do and their entire committee is down the hall.

Try doing it while working two jobs, I want to cry out indignantly. Try doing it after your supervisor and one advisor leave for other universities before you're done! Try doing it alone, with no support! But then I realise that all this makes me sound like a whiny loser, so I keep my mouth shut and fester internally.

[Teaching Carnival] End of term

With classes officially over for the year, and next term's class ready to go, I thought I'd try to put down a few thoughts. In my mind, this term's class was both more and less successful than the other two times I've taught it, and I think I'm finally starting to appreciate how much difference the students themselves can make. But before I launch into a tirade about the disappointments and failures, I want to make sure I remember the truly exceptional students I had the pleasure of teaching, and who taught me so much as well. Some were 'A' students and others were 'C' students, but they all approached class with interest, imagination and dedication. They worked through difficult ideas and came up with their own. They helped other students and filled the room with laughter. Without them class would not have been as interesting or as fun, and for that I am most grateful.

But if I'm to be honest I also have to admit that the majority failed to meet my hopes and expectations. I was surprised to learn that these students wouldn't do anything unless a mark was attached to it, including coming to class. This is the first time I chose not to include marks for participation, and I won't do it again. I mean, I thought they would at least show up out of respect for their discussion groups and moderators but there was no solidarity, man. None. I also continue to be amazed that there are students who think it's either amusing or appropriate to ask for a grade change while none-too-subtly flipping through a wad of $20 bills; who come to my office with tales of hardship that make me want to weep; who think that flirting is a reasonable way to solicit extra marks; who blatantly lie to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and inactions; who place so much stock in their marks that they will demand the extra point that makes an 'A-' become an 'A'; who think they are the only ones who work and go to school at the same time; who are so oblivious to academic integrity that they leave the wikipedia links in the content they pasted into their assignments, and think it's acceptable to make up all their observational data... Oh my god. I have to stop!

Then again, inter-disciplinary work is really hard. I mean this was by far the most academically diverse bunch I've ever taught, and there were weird trends: Like failing and near-failing marks went almost exclusively to political science students. Like young women almost never asked questions or addressed the class as a whole, and a few young men dominated. Like psychology and computer science students did particularly well. Like too many students didn't submit assignments at all, or submitted them so late that the deductions caused a failing mark. Like anthropology majors consistently outperformed every other major.

And the evaluation part is especially tricky. I mean, can I expect all students in an anthropology and sociology class to demonstrate a particular skill set? And in doing so am I obligated to teach that skill set to other students who do not share our focus and emphasis? I believe there are amazing merits to disciplinary studies, and I'd like to teach some kind of specific skill-set. But I also have to acknowledge that I am unable to dedicate class time to both foundational skills and introducing new content. (It's hard enough to work with 70 students for one three-hour block a week.) I need students to have a body of shared skills before we can get to the business of working and learning together.

I wonder why we don't teach more first year seminars on research skills? I mean, is it unreasonable to expect all second year students in the arts and sciences to know how to locate and critically evaluate information? It's not like there aren't systematic, and well-established, methods across disciplines for doing just that!

Anyway, so the term was challenging. And sometimes depressing. But it was fun too - still totally worth it - and I'm looking forward to doing it all again!

[more teaching carnival]

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