Do as I Say…

…not as I do? Oopsie! The other day, I tweeted about the current mental health crisis among students, likely to be made worse by a pandemic, and added the url for JMU’s Counseling Center, which is still open and doing amazing work with students. And then I forgot to talk about it in my welcome-back video to the class. So today, I added the following to the course front page in Canvas, our LMS:

Spring 2020. It’s going to be a fabulöses semester! [this was part of the page from the beginning of the semester]

… and it has become a wild ride. We’re online now, folks!

Crowley (Good Omens) says "Can I hear a 'wahoo'?"
Now, seriously, this has been an unexpected and worrying turn of event. You had not planned to take an online course, and I had not planned to teach one. So let’s all acknowledge that the next month will probably be a bit chaotic, and we will need to improvise a little. Add to that the stresses caused by a pandemic going around that may affect friends and family as well as ourselves. At points during the next month, we may all feel overwhelmed by what is going on and what we have to get done. If this is the case with you, please talk to me. We will figure out how to provide you with some breathing room that allows you to be successful in this class.

Canvas course site

I’ll say something in Wednesday’s video as well. There has been quite a bit of annoyance among JMU faculty that crowds of students showed up in downtown Harrisonburg over the weekend to party and go to bars, putting the community at risk. As a result, I emphasized the importance of social distancing in my first video; students need to understand that this is important. But at the same time we have to recognize that not all students view the crisis as an extended spring break, and that some are likely to be in crisis mode. And going out for drinks may very well be a way to try to forget something one is afraid of…

When I was looking for the Crowley gif, I came across the following, somehow more appropriate, option. I decided against it, prudently, though it fits my mood:

Aziraphale (Good Omens) says "Welcome to the end times"

Two articles that I found interesting and useful: Alexandra Milsom, in Inside Higher Ed, wisely counsels not to overdo things and recommends a type of technological simplicity that’s still full of good ideas. I might steal some for my class, such as the “clubhouse forum.” We are now not only teaching whatever we’re teaching but are also in charge of building online community in a time when students badly need it. The other piece arrived by email: Cassandra Sardo’s and Justin York’s Faculty Focus article on student autonomy in discussion boards—a welcome reminder of some ways to avoid the “write a post and respond to two others” approach to discussion boards.

My little brother suggested that yesterday’s welcome video looks like from Die Sendung mit der Maus, a German children’s show that combines cartoons (of a mouse, surprisingly) with educational films about how things are done. Well, then!

Not many reasons to be cheerful these days. One thing that helped was a flashback to a 1990s Japanese band, Pizzicato Five. My favorite album by them is fittingly called Happy End of the World. Cheers!


(The photo shows my current home work place. Luckily, I managed to clean it up a bit last week, after it became buried under all kinds of stuff. The GIANTmicrobe is a corona virus, but a fairly harmless one: the common cold.)

Sunday night, and I managed to get my online course portion off to a start: Recorded a first short video greeting (to keep some liveliness in the online environment and show the students that we are making an effort—OK, also because it was fun); created a survey to get a sense of tech resources and skills that the students have; got a Google Voice number that students can call and text to; and wrote a short blog post and an email to inform students. Tomorrow, I’ll have to update the Canvas site with information about how to reach me during student hours.

I will try to keep things fairly simple. Two short videos per week, so that students see me moving and alive (keeping fingers crossed here!) and are possibly nudged to engage with the rest of the content. Maybe I can communicate some of the excitement about the material.

It’s always surprising how long it takes to create and upload a short video. I didn’t have time to produce closed captions, so I provide the video script to students as well. I write the script before recording the video (on Camtasia, which I was able to buy a few years ago with some of my faculty development funds), which is a great way to keep the length of the video under control.

I hope I can communicate some excitement because the course material for the rest of the semester rocks: Supreme Court behavior, Griswold v. Connecticut, same-sex marriage cases, Masterpiece Cakeshop. This is the fun stuff! First, though, I’ll ask them to research what cases there are that would apply to government measures that restrict individual liberties in the face of national emergencies. And maybe that’ll take over the rest of the course—I’ll be flexible here. One way or another, the material is exciting.

I am lucky: I teach only one course a semester, as my other responsibilities are focused on creating faculty development programs. Since my main work doesn’t revolve around learning technology and design, I am not swamped with help requests right now, though I try to do my share and offer my time wherever I can help. And I don’t have children to care for at home. I can’t imagine suddenly having to teach three or four online courses while at the same time having kids at home as schools are closed.

I noted that I started a class blog where I can post the welcome videos. You can see the first post below. I’ll pipe this into Canvas with the Redirect Tool. If I find out that all students can easily access Canvas, I might cancel that blog again and create the content directly in Canvas, to simplify things. But for now it might be an idea to keep things also in an open environment that students can access without passwords and the dreaded Duo Security app.

If you’d like to use the tech resources survey that I sent to the students, you’re welcome to do so; download it here (MS Word doc).

An updated reading and referencing geek-out

About two years ago, on my old blog, I posted a description of the technology I use for managing and reading various types of articles. I re-post it below. It is largely still accurate, with some minor changes that are worth noting. For one, I’ve started using LiquidText for my pdfs. Underlining and other annotations seem to work more smoothly, and I also like the ability to combine several sources in one document, connecting notes across such sources in one document, pulling quotes out from the documents, and then exporting everything in a word document. That’s quite helpful for literature reviews. The downside, as I note below, is that LiquidText integrates less smoothly with the iCloud than Goodreader. You can’t always get what you want!

I still use Instapaper, even though taking unlimited notes now again requires a paid subscription, with the owners providing only minimal development of the system, even only minimal updates of the iphone/ipad apps. I don’t mind the modest price (about $3 per month), but some of the functions can be a little buggy, particularly the text-to-speech playlist function. Still, it’s the only app that I’ve found lets me easily take and export underlines and notes on web articles, and the playlist function, buggy or not, is quite amazing. I commute a lot, and listening to class readings, even if read by Siri (or “Samantha”), has been a real time saver on occasion.

OK, here is what I wrote in January 2018, after the jump.

Continue reading An updated reading and referencing geek-out

A Domain of My Own

I’ve finally made the plunge into creating an independent web presence, away from the Google or employer eco systems, combining my blog (so far on blogger) with a personal portfolio. Basically making Domain of One’s Own into Domain of My Own (DOMO, like it!). I am using Reclaim Hosting as host and WordPress as a platform. Reclaim Hosting grew out of Mary Washington’s Domain of One’s Own project and is focused on academic web presences and blogging; all the cool kids seem to be using it; it’s inexpensive. I am using WordPress’s 2019 theme, primarily because it’s accessible and flexible, and I am getting tired of the typical top-bar/side-bar themes. I’m still tinkering with it, though, and who knows whether it won’t look like a typical top-bar/side-bar theme in the end.

I’ll be revising and re-upping a couple of my older blog posts and adding new content. And work on my e-portfolio. I had planned this for the summer, but as usual, more important things raised their shiny new heads, and here we are!

Update, December 14, 2019:

After plenty of tinkering, I’ve abandoned the Twenty Nineteen theme for the older Twenty Fifteen. It’s accessibility ready as well, and I find the layout—text sizes, fonts, images, and all—to be much more directly to my liking, without many adjustments. I particularly like that images do not dominate the screen as much as in Twenty Nineteen, at least out of the box. And for now I don’t have enough time to build a new box.