Sunday, November 25, 2007


While doing my Black Friday shopping online, I decided to buy myself a couple books about Sesame Street. One of them was out of print, but I managed to get myself a like new copy for only $12. Even though the other one is still in print, I didn't get it. To buy it new, I would have to $50, and used copies start above $30. I went interlibrary loan instead. Both the books were hard cover, neither were published with a dust jacket. Generally, I expect my out of print book purchases to be more expensive, so what happened here? The second book was published by a faculty member at Morgan State University and is recommended for "upper-level sociology, education, and mass media." It is a textbook.

Instead of releasing the rant on book costs that is inside me, I'm going to share something optimistic. I would like to introduce you to Curriki. Curriki is the "Wikipedia of Curriculum." It is a global non-profit thought up by Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems. In the article's interview, McNealy says, "why are we open-sourcing browsers and spreadsheets and operating systems, when we ought to be open-sourcing third-grade math textbooks?" So this wiki doesn't seem to be focusing on higher ed, but we have Google Reader and the entire Open Courseware movement working for us. Not only is this a fantastic idea, but it is also a global endeavor.

Curriki has a bit more oversight to contributions than Wikipedia, but don't let that intimidate you. Check it out, sign up, and collaborate with educators internationally to influence education.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Communicating in Academic Online Communities

I am a moderator for our Honors College online community known as HCOL (Honors College OnLine). Every year with the influx of freshman there is a visible learning curve on how to participate in this type of community. Some of these students have only ever talked with friends online in social places like MySpace and Facebook. Others are comfortable in the aggressive and abusive worlds like gamer forums. When these two conversational styles collide, everyone gets defensive, insults arise, feelings get hurt, and discussion dies. Sadly, some people choose to leave the community. This is a different type of interaction so it should have different rules. here are some from the mistakes I've made and my observations of the most common issues.

No Personal Attacks. It does not matter if they are off handed or direct; no one in your community deserves to be verbally stoned.

Don’t Post Upset. I know from experience that it is hard advise to take, especially when you have been directly contradicted or insulted, but I also know from mistakes that it will be worth it. This is not a battle, you do not have to defend your honor or stand your ground. When you are that emotional, your writing suffers so you are more likely to stick your foot in your mouth, say something that is completely misinterpreted, insult others, and fall into a tangent that is completely off topic. Take some time to cool off and the community will carry the discussion and the clarifications you originally wanted to may be done for you without any of the consequences.

Create Discussion. Fortunately, conversation does not exhaust physical resources. This means that you do not have to deconstruct an argument to construct your own. State your ideas without picking apart other peoples. If you message has short snippet quotes of the previous to yours and your rebuttal to their statements, then you are not asserting your beliefs, you are tearing apart others’. You do not have to point out how your opinion is in contrast. It is obvious.

Play the Believing Game. Set aside your own opinions to try on other people’s points of view. If you genuinely try to understand and value the other arguments, carrying on conversation in a productive manner should come easily.

Agree to Disagree. This is a community for sharing ideas not converting believers. One of the skills you should strive to learn is how to appreciate opinions that are different than your own.

Do Not Discuss Logical Fallacies. People are posting to share their ideas and opinions; calling them illogical is inappropriate. There is an argument there even if it is not posted in your ideal way. Discussions on how to form a logically sound argument or definitions of what is not a logically sound argument are off topic. It is disrespectful to break the semantics of a post down and ignore its meaning. If you would like to educate your peers on logic you can start a new thread, but I’ll warn you: Don’t use specific examples from other users of logical fallacies.

Be Respectful. No matter how good or thorough your post is, what you say will not be heard if it is not presented in a respectful way.

Know Your Audience. You may be part of a conversation where only 3 or 4 people are posting and it can seem like they are the people you are talking to, but remember there is always more than that. There are other students who are lurking in the thread reading everything, but not posting anything. There are faculty and staff poking about. They may not read everything, and they may not post very often, but they are there. There are on occasion visiting guests. Just because there aren’t any at the moment doesn’t mean future visitors will not look at old threads. Some of the guests that our community has already seen include experts for virtual hightables, honors administrators from different programs, and a fellowship committee. Some of these people will be forced to judge you based on your virtual presence because they will never meet you face to face. Honestly, this should be a rule for life, not just communicating online.

These aren't the stead fast laws of the internet, but it is not just limited to honors students and their discussions either. It is just my advice, but I do hope to refine and add to these recommendations as I observe and learn more.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Honors Worthy

A friend of mine, who is teaching at the Honors College I graduated from posted the following quiz in our online community just for fun. Would you enjoy an honors education?

It's a self-assessment device for prospective honors students. You score it this way:

* agree strongly - 5 pts
* agree - 4 pts
* indifferent or can't decide - 3 pts
* disagree - 2 pts
* disagree strongly - 1 pts

If you score 70 or higher you will enjoy your career in Honors. He also says "no one will score a 100 on this (at least not without multiple personalities)."

Respond to the following statements:

1. I like to read for fun.

2. I can stall on schoolwork but still make an A with a last-minute push.

3. I am goal-oriented and hate to be distracted from achieving what I've set my sights on.

4. My strongest motivations are intrinsic. Some things are worth doing for their own sake.

5. Sometimes I enjoy being alone with my thoughts.

6. Discussing ideas with other people is exciting.

7. I find myself thinking differently from those around me.

8. I am already gathering information about postgraduate education (law schools, med schools, graduate school, etc.).

9. I solve problems more quickly than most people.

10. I enjoy being with friends who are as smart as I am.

11. I can tolerate living with "loose ends" -- unanswered questions, unsolved problems.

12. I would rather take all the classes I'm interested in than graduate early.

13. I want to take classes that challenge me, even if it doesn't mean more money when I graduate.

14. I expect to meet interesting people and be exposed to new ideas in college.

15. I would like to go abroad for study or travel.

16. I enjoy doing projects or research on my own.

17. A good course is one that is an adventure in thinking and that tackles big issues. I would take it even if I weren't guaranteed an A.

18. I'm pretty sure of who I am, even if I haven't chosen a career.

19. Even though I expect to make new friends and participate in extracurricular activities, my top priority in college is learning.

20. I pay attention to current events.

It is really interesting to see this list and think about our current students and myself as an undergrad. Until recently, our honors college admitted student based solely on ACT. Good test scores do not reflect any of these interests. In fact, some of these interests will probably work against a good GPA. I know that many of the honors colleges and programs around the country continue to use GPA/ACT/SAT for their only admittance criteria. I don't fault them for it, because I realize how difficult it is to be objective and fair when trying to admit students. I was part of our honors interview process last year as we started a program deemphasizing ACT scores and I've seen the issues that can arise when trying to determine if one student is 'better' than another. On the other side of the system is the students who are planning on being judged by their GPAs and ACTs. That is how they've been told they can earn all of the things mentioned in the above list, and this does not include parent's expectations. It is a really tough situation, and I'm proud of UCA's honors college for trying to change the system.

I scored high on this test, but I spent most of my time in honors questioning whether or not I belonged there. I've been strongly considering working with honors students, because there are so many ways in which I can relate to them. I understand the concept that any grade other than an A is failing. I've dealt with the desire to find or form the perfect argument. I've struggled with the transition from conversational honors classes to general education courses where current issues are avoided. At the same time, there are still a lot of ways that I don't relate. As an undergrad I was in love with the program, but not all the people it attracted. Then it made me like an outcast, as a professional I worry it will make me feel unappreciated. Fortunately, I think the opportunity to work with people who believe in those honorsesque ideals will outweigh the mistakes students make as they work on maturing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Piece of Me

This weekend I put together a viewing of The World According to Sesame Street on campus. It was mainly an Honors College event, but I wanted it to be for anyone who was interested and more importantly the people I care about. I called some of my friends and asked them to make it a priority to be there. It wasn't until after I saw it for the second time that I realized why I want to share it so much. It is going to sound cheesy, and this is going to be more personal than I normally get for this blog, but I found myself in Sesame Workshop, and in sharing this film, I'm sharing a piece of me

I entered Public Relations as an undergraduate because I wanted to work for Disney. At the time, they were making great movies with Pixar and getting a lot of flak for the children's books they were publishing about hot topic issues like having two moms. I was inspired by the reach they had to children and I was in love with how easily a picture of Mickey Mouse could make the whole world smile. After spending a semester working there, I realized that Disney had the ability to do what I wanted but not the mission. As much as I wanted to influence children's lives, the education aspect was more important to me than the entertainment. I continued on with PR thinking I would eventually work for a local non-profit like Boys and Girls Club or maybe a Haven House. At this point I had never heard of Sesame Workshop or realized that Sesame Street was anything more than a Jim Henson children's show.

When the opportunity for me to stay at UCA and get a masters came up, I was torn about what to do. I was drawn to my current program because the topics that I was researching and interested in at the time were appropriate for older students and I believe that higher education should be a right. I care about issues in higher ed like cost, curriculum, retention, and technology. I value student services and I believe the field needs more research and support so it can become better recognized and more credible. Since starting in this field I've seen a lot of jobs I would enjoy and even more that I know I would be good at, but I have only seen a couple that make me excited the same way my imaginary role and Disney did; the same way Sesame Workshop makes me feel now.

I saw the documentary for the first time less than a year ago. Within a week I had researched Sesame Workshop, found an entry level position that I was qualified for, talked with Mike about my need to move to New York if it came though, and applied. I keep trying to be realistic and telling myself how the job search will go next semester, but I really want to be at Sesame Workshop. That film expresses a piece of me. It was a piece of me before I even saw it; I just didn't know it was there. I was looking for a way to educate and empower children through entertainment at Disney because I thought that Disney did things like Sesame Street (since they now do the Muppet stuff). I was in the wrong place. Disney is wonderful, but Sesame workshop believes, "All children deserve a chance to learn and grow; to be prepared for school; to better understand the world and each other; to think, dream and discover; to reach their highest potential." I want to work towards helping children worldwide reach their highest potential.

Finding the altruistic organization that believes everything that I couldn't articulate has given me a new mission. I know right now that someday I will work for Sesame Workshop. I tried to convince myself that it was something that I could do at any point in my life. I was telling myself that I can just wait and volunteer my time after I retire if nothing else, but I can't wait that long. I have so much to offer, and there is so much good that I could do between now and then. I'll start as soon as they'll take me.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Quality Reading

I don't often ask my readers to contribute, but I've been inspired by Kaleb Tierce. As a general rule, I think banning books is ridiculous. I do think that not all books are appropriate for all ages, but I also think that the sooner you start treating students like adults, the sooner they will start acting like them. Aside from what I generally believe about book banning, taking legal action against a teacher for their class content is outrageous. Maybe I've spent too much time in an environment that values academic freedom, but I am very upset about this.

I know how much you daily bloggers like memes so I'm starting one. Take this list of challenged books, mark the ones that you've read and at (roughly) what age. Anecdotes about how they inspired, educated, and changed you are encouraged.

The American Library Association's most challenged books of all time

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (Maya Angelou)

"The Chocolate War" (Robert Cormier)

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (Mark Twain) I read this in high school as part of class. I loved it because it was the end of sentence diagramming and the beginning of fun English classes. I forgave my grandmother her racism after this book. I didn't encounter race problems much at all growing up, so when my grandma would say off handed slurs like they didn't matter, I didn't understand. I questioned whether or not she was a good person. This book put racial slurs in a context, and while they still weren't ok, and I still give my grandma disapproving looks, I was finally able to understand that she grew up in a different time.

"It's Perfectly Normal" (Robie Harris)

"Scary Stories" (Alvin Schwartz)

"Daddy's Roommate" (Michael Willhoite)

"Of Mice and Men" (John Steinbeck)

"Harry Potter" series (J.K. Rowling) I've bought this series for my little brother as they've been released, and I started reading them my freshman year of college after he finished the first book for the third time. My brother never really liked to read before that. We really connected over these books, and we began a new relationship as friends instead of competing siblings.

"Heather Has Two Mommies" (Leslea Newman)

"Goosebumps" series (R.L. Stine) I read a couple of these in 6th grade, but I quickly graduated to Fear Street. After about a half a dozen of those, I moved on to Stephen King and finished Cujo, Misery, and Firestarter the summer before 7th grade. I generally feel like I've gotten the genre out of my system early, but I'm still working on The Stand.

"The Catcher in the Rye" (J.D. Salinger)

"The Color Purple" (Alice Walker)

"A Wrinkle in Time" (Madeleine L'Engle)

"Earth's Children" series (Jean M. Auel) I didn't read these until college, but in my defense, I didn't discover them any earlier. They were fun, but I think they would have been a completely different experience if I had read them before The Naked Ape.

"In the Night Kitchen" (Maurice Sendak)

"The New Joy of Gay Sex" (Charles Silverstein)

"Blubber" (Judy Blume) In 4th grade I read everything Judy Blume I could get my hands on, and I honestly can't remember this book specifically or why it would be contested. If anything I read from that year in my life should be challenged it should be the book about gamma rays and marigolds that had graphic details for skinning a cat. I suppose I should go back and read Blubber to jog my memory.

"The Handmaid's Tale" (Margaret Atwood)

"The Bluest Eye" (Toni Morrison)

"The Outsiders" (S.E. Hinton) I love The Outsiders. It was also a class assignment, but I had that that teacher for several years, so I have no idea what grade it was. I don't have to tell you that this is a great coming of age book. Not only that, it is a coming of age book for the real outcasts. Who is and isn't cool is so important in Jr. High and High school yet we never talked about it. In most of the stuff I read, the uncool people had glasses or too many freckles. Even at thirteen I thought it was a joke. This book really addressed social inequity and what it meant for people my age (at the time) to be on the loosing side of that game.

"Captain Underpants" series (Dav Pilkey)

"A Light in the Attic" (Shel Silverstein) I love this book. I still read this book. I've bought this book for 4 year olds. Warn your children, I suppose I shouldn't be welcome to their birthday parties.

"Brave New World" (Aldous Huxley)

"Asking about Sex and Growing Up" (Joanna Cole)

"Cujo" (Stephen King) As I said before, I read this book in sixth grade. I'll admit, it is not the best reading for SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) because sometimes you need to just let out a good long ewww. Of all the Stephen King novels I've read, why this is the one on the list, is beyond me.

"James and the Giant Peach" (Roald Dahl) Is this another shield our children from magic challenge? Did one of the nasty aunts curse? I don't understand why it is on the list. I loved it as a kid and it sparked the couple months I spent desperately trying not to squish ant on the sidewalk. It may be the reason I still escort crickets and most spiders out of my apartment to safety instead of just squishing them. This is another banned book that I've shared with the children in my life. I bought it for a kid I use to babysit who was arachnophobia and I directed the play with my kids at Sonshine.

"The Anarchist Cookbook" (William Powell)

"Boys and Sex" (Wardell Pomeroy)

"Ordinary People" (Judith Guest)

"American Psycho" (Bret Easton Ellis)

"Athletic Shorts" (Chris Crutcher)

"The House of the Spirits" (Isabel Allende)

"Slaughterhouse Five" (Kurt Vonnegut) I haven't read this. I read Breakfast of Champions this summer and hated it. Maybe I won't swear off Vonnegut and give this one a chance.

"Lord of the Flies" (William Golding) I haven't read this one either, but I've always wanted to.

"Mommy Laid an Egg" (Babette Cole)

"Private Parts" (Howard Stern)

"Where's Waldo?" (Martin Hanford) What? Was there some Disney-esque hidden image scandal that I missed? There is no content in these books, and most inappropriate thing I ever remember finding was a fat woman in a bikini. Are parents just worried that there is something in there that they don't know about? I'm going to go look up why this book is challenged.

***Edit: I guess I didn't search hard enough. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Waldo Banning. "According to the American Library Association Where's Waldo has ranked 88 out of a 100 of the most banned and objected to books in the USA. The most common reason this book has been banned because in one picture, there are tiny cartoon breasts being wantonly flashed." As a kid I went to the lake every 4th of July so I've seen real breasts wantonly flashed. The tiny cartoon ones probably didn't phase me.

"Little Black Sambo" (Helen Bannerman)

"Girls and Sex" (Wardell Pomeroy)

"How to Eat Fried Worms" (Thomas Rockwell) This one makes me sad. I read this somewhere between 5th and 8th grade, and almost instantly read it again. I spent a year or two rereading this and Summer of the Monkeys. I loved this book because he was the new kid. Growing up I never lived in one place longer than 3 years so I really related to him trying to find his place and maintain his dignity in a new school. I know that I can do whatever I set my mind to even if what I want to do seems as silly as eating worms and catching monkeys.

Well, it looks like I've got some more books to add to my reading list. Fortunately Amelia Bedlia isn't on the list so I can stick to my current Christmas plan for my friends' kids and not worry about corrupting them.

Friday, November 02, 2007


I have been out of touch for the past month because I have been caught up in SURF. SURF, the Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a state grant to fund undergraduates to do research in their area of study. I was awarded one as an undergrad for my thesis. This year I am in a grant writing class and my professor felt that my experience with this and my experience with my assistantship in the Sponsored Programs Office gave me a majority of the general information that the course was going to cover, so I was given a special term project. Instead of writing a small grant like the rest of my cohort, I've been given a coordinating role in the SURF process. Our goals this year were to increase our number of applications. We only turn in a handful each year, and we could be more competitive if we would just submit more. I started last month by organizing the interest meeting and trying to get the word out around campus.

I wanted to keep the students from getting neglected by an increase in numbers so I added two workshops to our normal process. The first was a writing workshop intended to help them with their narratives. The students weren't really ready for it. They treated it like another information meeting, but hopefully if it becomes an annual service the mentors will get wise and help their students show up ready. The second was a budgeting workshop and we invited the grants accountant to come and help the students work with their budgets. The students showed up ready for this one. I think they were finally starting to see the differences between a grant application and a scholarship application.

The first drafts were due on the 17th and I had 13 turned in. My goal was to break our record of 15, but at least it was up from last year's 8. I read through and edited all the proposals that weekend and returned them to the students on Monday. Over the next couple days a few stragglers arrived and shot my stress level up because I couldn't give them the good editing that I had wanted to. Final drafts were due to me on the 26th, and I managed the whole intake process pretty smoothly. At this point, I was holding completed applications in my hands, so my anxiety started to go down. I learned if you give students a deadline and you stick to it, they will make it happen. If you don't stick to it, they will use every spare moment you give them.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were spent trying to get the attention and time of our campuses administrators so the proposals could get signed and approved. The grants were due yesterday and we hand delivered our 14 (still didn't break that record) submissions. My life is starting to go back to normal now. The proposals are being entered in to our office's electronic system. I'll still have to cull and file them, and in a couple weeks I'll start working with our Post Award Coordinator to streamline the processing of the ones that get awarded. Thankfully, the super-stress, adrenalin-rush portion of this project is over.

I have learned a lot working in the Sponsored Programs office, but I don't think that Sponsored Programs is a department I am going to pursue after graduation. I'm not intimidated by grants. I've decided that they are not hard, they are just tedious. What I don't like about this role is that we are the unacknowledged collaborators. When you work with someone or a group on a project, you have to take into account that they have different work habits and life schedules. Unfortunately, grant writers don't seem to realize they are working with us. We can't take into account how they work because we don't know about their projects until they come to us, and they too often don't take us into account because they don't realize how large our role is. What this leads to is a lot of stress on both parties because so much is being done after the last minute. I like to be able to organize and plan my stress. I like to see it coming and either do what I can to curb it or at least accept responsibility for. I know this isn't always possible, but in my office it seems like we are presented with projects when they are at the peak of their stress levels.

What I loved about this project was getting the opportunity to read the student's proposals. They are submitting some fantastic projects. I'm disappointed that I'm going to miss out on some of their final results because I won't be at UCA any more. I would love to have the opportunity to see these students finish their projects and present nationally. Hopefully, my comments on their proposals helped them get a little more organized and little more prepared for doing research at a level a little bit beyond what is normally expected of undergraduates.