Non-digital Writing on the Tenure Track

Over the past ten days or so, I have been doing a lot of writing, curation, and artifact gathering. While I wished the emphasis would have been, could have been, centered in #DigiWriMo, sadly it has not. All of this writing has, in fact, been focused on document editing and creation for my tenure binder. From there it is submitted and reviewed by colleagues, bosses, and administration. Sounds fun, right? 

The process is not very fun, actually. There's relatively little pleasure involved. Of course there are some points that are useful and educational, especially in terms of reflection. For example, working to collect all the different documents helps me remember all the different assignments and activities, the different pedagogies and approaches, as well as just how much many of my students have accomplished. Collecting all those documents reminds me of just how paperwork centered this approach to tenure is--and that kind of bothers me, actually.

While tenure varies from school to school, where I work it is a five year process. I'm in my fourth year, so I go up for tenure next year. What does this have to do with digital writing? It has a lot to do with it. I'd rather be creating and writing up a digital portfolio for my tenure than assembling endless PDFs and word documents in a two inch binder. But I'm not going to do that. 

To my knowledge, perhaps one other professor on campus has submitted an electronic portfolio--and that was in a different division. I know of nobody else who has attempted to submit a digital portfolio. Frankly, I do not want to be the guinea pig, not when tenure is at risk. I feel like I should take that risk because #edtech is my field and because of what I teach on a daily basis; however, the economic realities of educational debt, mortgage, and health care keep me traditional. I'm not going to take that kind of risk.

There are additional mitigating factors. First, my Division and my Dean have been pretty supportive of my work, interests, and research. However, being supportive and encouraging of research and activities is very different from accepting an entirely new format for tenure binders. That's like being willing to eat Thai for lunch, but just because you enjoyed the meal does not suddenly mean that you are going to switch over to only eating Thai food. I realize that's pushing the comparison, but that's certainly how it feels. So while my people are supportive, I just don't know how well this would go over.

Outside of our college is administration, and they seem more traditionally minded about tenure than my college does in the sense of tenure expectations and portfolio. 

So, going back to basic economic realities, innovation is set down for safety and security.

Digital Writing I'm Not Doing: #DigiWriMo

Today's a hard day. Tomorrow my step son's murderer either gets a new trial, the judge still has not issued her response to a motion for a new trial, or he gets sentenced for second degree murder. He could get from five to eighty years--and he's served a couple years incarcerated already (in jail, not prison). Oh, did I mention the trial was delayed for nearly three years and that sentencing has been moved about four times?

So today is a day. It's a tense day. It's a day exploding with love and rage. A day where I'm grateful for my life, my lover, and my experience. It's a day when I truly, sincerely, dedicate "Die MF Die" to the killer. While I'd prefer he atone in a sincere, authentic manner, I would not shed a tear if he just up and died.

Moving between these emotional polarities is intense. And I don't necessarily feel objective. Truth told, I give a fig about objectivity right now. So the digital writing I'm not doing today is grading. I won't be grading tomorrow, either. I probably won't grade this weekend, either--at least if I'm not feeling well or the killer gets a light sentence.

So I'm writing about not writing, not working on others' texts, not evaluating or assessing because I'm just not able to do so fairly. 

Note: I am still writing--digitally--and composing, adding music here. Maybe captions there. I've not been able to find an image appropriate for me emotional state. How does one depict Love and Rage?

This will pass. But, for now, I just can't do it. I can't grade. So I'm going to do other digital writing, digital creation; I'm going to engage with things I care about--with things that matter to me. I'll try to help make the world a better place.

That rage hasn't left. That rage is still so angry that it knows that I have no choice left but to do something, to be productive, and to challenge paternalistic and oligarchical power. Doing it out of love and the rage born of bearing witness to violence, cruelty, and abuse.

I may love and rage, but my students shouldn't have to feel impacts because some 20 year kid murdered my son because the killer felt disrespected.

Optimal Caption Placement: Ouzts, Snell, Maini, Duchowski

Excited I was to find this conference paper! "Yes," I thought! This will be fascinating. And then, after I finished reading all two pages, I felt disappointed. Is this the authors' fault? A bit. Is it my fault? A bit. You see, I sadly lack the necessary statistical literacy, or my statistical chops are seriously gummed up, to fully make sense of the results section. So, there's that.

Their conclusion, however, reads thus:

"An eye tracking study was presented in which several different captioning styles were examined. Significant differences were found between eye movement metrics depending on the captioning style used, suggesting that captioning styles play an important role in viewing strategies. Participants underwent large amounts of saccadic crossovers and spent much less time reading the captions when captions changed position frequently. Future work is needed to fully examine the implications of these differences" (emphasis added, p. 190).

This makes quite a bit of sense, especially when you consider that they tried four approaches to presenting the captions. (Read the article, heh!) Most notably they tried the traditional captioning positions as well as placing captions above the speakers when present on screen. If not on screen, the captions would be at the bottom. This left me wondering a couple things.

While it may be useful for comprehension to avoid lots of extra or overlapping eye movement, might it not be possible to have the caption placement near speakers occur during intense dialogue and conversation and then shift to traditional (at the bottom) placement when conversation off-screen alternates with significant NSIs (non-speech information)? That might be an interesting approach to captions to test out--especially in dialogue heavy video or film.

As to the article, I am grateful that the authors conducted and shared the research. I just wish the findings would have been more explicitly stated. Then again, there might not have been enough information, or data, to support broader generalizations or suggestions for practice. I respect that. However, in the interest of testing out other approaches to captioning, it would be nice to have some research-driven data from which to launch.

Bringing in the Connotative in #Captions: Nicole Snell's Dissertation on Captions

That title can't sum up Nicole Snell's dissertation, but it does emphasize one of the key points she makes in her work. I'm about twenty pages in and quite enjoying it. It's a dissertation, not an academic article, so that make the reading flow differently; however, the content and focus are quite refreshing.

Particularly love this part:

"This goal [of the dissertation] is undergirded by the hypothesis: since closed captioning changes the passive viewing experience into an active reading one, it can be predicted that users of closed captioning construct connotative and emotional meaning through viewing and meaning making strategies that are different than the strategies individuals who have access to the audio soundtrack and scene action do" (p. 12).

Over the past couple days, I have been trying to think and better understand why I like captions. I seem to have some kind of fixation or attachment to them--something akin to my former obsession with punk rock or specific bands when I was sixteen or eighteen. It's like an itch or fixation or something. Snell's quote, though, helps me better understand my focus on captions though--if only a little bit. Watching the telly, well, just does not do it for me. Boring. I want the captions, and the captions serve and work as a kind of validator of what I'm seeing and hearing. 

Captions also provide additional information. Sometimes it's song lyrics--not always easy to discern if you are just listening; other times, it's background muttering by another character--not always clear in the actual spoken dialogue. If memory serves me right, this happens a fair amount in Orphan Black and similar conspiracy-esque series. Back to Snell's point, though: I'm not just watching, I am also reading.

When I read captions, though, it's not a passive activity. I read and see if all the dialogue is there. I look for specific sounds. I wonder about the presentation of accents--or not. I wonder what non-speech information (NSI) [using a descriptor developed, as far as I know, by Sean Zdenek] is presented and why. I am entertained by the narrative but engage with one form of its representation.

I know that this post's focus is on what and why I like captions--at least part of the reason. The affective is another emphasis Snell cover's in her diss--not just the connotative. If you want more details, please check out her work. Really. This is some exciting thinking!

And yes, this is a processing and working through post.

Digital Writing Month: Captions

Digital Writing Month has been bothering me--but in a good way. I want to write, but I've not really felt like I knew where or how. In my research life, I've had a bit of that same struggle. While I'm solid about screen casting, there are some other loose threads. But, somehow, I've managed to come back to captions. Fortunately, much of this was solidified today with a long conversation with Sean Zdenek today. Sean's the author of Reading Sounds, a book on captions that is coming out in about a week. Sean was also a dissertation committee member, and he's the one who first turned me on to captions. So it was pretty fitting to talk about captioning with him!

I've been trying to find a way to connect research to my normal life. I watch a lot of series, and I watch some of them repeatedly. I know the shows and characters. Captions are always on when I watch, and I feel like I get more from the show than when only audio is running. Always want to read the screen while watching, and a show without captions is, well, just missing something. So I've decided to get back to something I really like.

Then it hit me, #DigiWriMo also explores multiple texts and media. It's about process, expression, and exploration. What better way to combine two ongoing projects or paths than to work on my captioning during #DigiWriMo. Only I'm not interested in standard captioning. I want to play, explore, and push captioning to places that it rarely goes. In order to do this, I need to up my tech game. This means grappling with After Effects and Premier Pro. Already on my computer they are, so that's good.

This afternoon I've spent literally hours learning AE and PP. I'm not very good, no. Not at all. However, I was able to take one of my favorite scenes from The Wire and do a brief experiment. I wanted to see if I could do some basic animated text effects. 

This is my rough draft. I'm not tight. I'm not awesome. However, I am motivated--and I've spent about four hours getting here, and I liked it. So, yeah.

Glad to be back in #CaptionLand.

My Un-CV

An exciting opening prompt for some of the first #digiwrimo activities:

What if we could write a CV that was based not on degrees and position and peer-reviewed publications, but on what we think is most important about who we are and what we are genuinely most proud to have accomplished?

This is remarkably easy for me to do, and my #altcv is short. Very short.


I'm dedicated and loyal. 

Nothing matters more than these traits.
Nothing compares* in importance.


22+ years with my partner (I'm 44, so that's literally half of my life)

25+ years focused on my spiritual path, ontology (that's literally more than half of my life)

*The music is not meant to be ironic or sarcastic; rather, it is an apt emotional portrayal of my total emotional commitment to these two parts of my life.

#DigiWriMo 2015

Digital Writing Month is starting in a few hours... Apparently it's already started in parts of the world, though, where today's already November 1, 2015. This is a good thing. Yes!

I'm involved with #digiwrimo for a couple reasons. I've stated a few of these on Twitter, but I'll restate here:

  • Some of the same people, like Maha, @nomadwarmachine, and @dogtrax are involved with the project. When I experienced the #clmooc with them last June, it was awesome. So I'm here based on how great the last experience was. Yep, that's it pretty much.
  • I'm teaching a grad class that focuses on social media and web 2.0 tools. Last go around, they were engaged with a lot of the #clmooc activities, and it was pretty darned productive from what I saw. Lots of engagement, confusion (normal in a MOOC), learning, and so forth. Exactly what students need to be doing: experiencing collaborative online learning that is free form enough for them to adapt to their own learning contexts. Knowing that the core folks behind #digiwrimo are great educators, I'm excited that my students can join in.
  • Relationships. I am not looking for love ... I'm looking for community and meeting a couple more good people. And that's about it.

I currently have no other goals aside from generally improving my ability to blend texts and images.

Missing My Exit

Missing My Exit: More thoughts on #rubrics

Driving home from Olympia to Salem last night, I was in an intense but jolly mood. After all, I was listening to my favorite tracks and the weather was decent for driving. After I eventually made it out of the Portland area, I made a mental note: don’t miss the Salem Parkway Exit.

No worries, bro, I told myself. Not only did I think of this reminder, but I also had a GPS device loaned to me by a colleague (no, I don't have a smart phone with GPS--that's another story). You guessed it: I missed that turn off. Then, when I tried to follow the GPS instructions, the direction to turn came too late. So I missed the turn. Four miles later, I turned onto a series of roads that I knew would take me home—this was not the first time I’d missed my exit—while the machine urging u-turns.

As I have already blogged, @jessifer’s presentation got me thinking about #rubrics, but what occurred with rubrics’ naturalization in my thinking and teaching can occur with almost anything. One example is treats. Having a chocolate mocha shake to celebrate an event is a treat; having it twice a week for pleasure, that may be a treat--or not; getting that frozen mocha every day or every other day, it's moved from being a treat, or something different, in to being a habit or pattern. Often this transformation happens with great ease and we barely notice. In another realm, teaching for example, by focusing on having a smooth teaching and learning experience with students, by working to minimize conflict, and by agreeing with the master narratives about rubrics’ value—regardless of their accuracy—I had multiple things in focus. Similarly, when I drive, I can only concentrate on a few things—so I was watching my lanes, traffic around me, listening to music, and reflecting on the keynotes. I was in a zone, driving safely, but totally oblivious to my location. It’s clear that my teaching has allowed such things as rubrics to become a habit, to be naturalized.

Caveat: I’m Not Born-Again

I will continue to use rubrics, and I don’t see them as a plague, but I do regard them as flawed tools that should be used with a mixture of strategies. The larger flaw, however, is in my own heavy reliance upon the #rubric. Solution: don't toss out rubrics but adjust my use of them.

To continue with the analogy, once I realized that I missed my normal exit—my normal approach to teaching—I tried to obey the machine to save time. This resulted in multiple failures. In my working experience, completely trusting BlackBoard or Moodle-created evaluations—and relying on their structures—has not worked out well. At all. So, to be clear, pure reliance on machines rarely turns out well.

How did I get home once my habits and machinery failed me? I drove parts of a path I knew from my past, I trusted my instincts that I could get home, I was curious about how it would work out, and I did not get mad. Driving often frustrates me in unique ways, ways that only come from driving. This usually blinds me to thinking very clearly, and it’s irrational. As you can imagine, this rarely has good results. This time, though, I did not get mad. I was just frustrated, but I wanted a good solution. What would that be?

In the past, I’ve looked at grading contracts—but they’ve made me nervous. Now, whether or not I use them, I know I need to at least explore them a bit more. Since I know there’s a gap in my pedagogy, assessment, and evaluation process, I actively want to correct the gap and find a working amalgam to fill it. There’s no rush; I want the choice to be effective and smart. 

The GPS suggested one off-ramp, but that was just to make a u-turn. I took the suggestion, and then I continued on my way and ignored the prompt to u-turn. After ten minutes, territory was familiar, and I arrived home at the time expected.

In terms of the future of my evaluative and assessment work, I know what’s expected of me from the academic machine, and I know what feels right to me. This would hopefully make the analogy described work. But what makes the evaluation and assessment portion more hopeful, and more interesting than a drive home, is that there are the voices and experiences of others around me, of colleagues and researchers, whom I can hear, share, and learn from through the process. I don't need to make the drive all by myself.

NWeLearn Reflection & Rubric Addiction

NWeLearn 2015 Conference Reflection

One of the most important components of attending NWeLearn was being able to talk to people outside of my context—outside of my program, division, college, and university about my classes, teaching approach, pedagogy, expectations, politics, etc. This ability to speak clearly and openly, without fear of being judged or evaluated, or having people know of or get lost in the details of my work, is important to my ability to develop as a professional, teacher, and member of the community.

Jesse Stommel's presentation on the LMS Grade Book was vital as well. My only real use of LMS grade books is like an online Excel sheet that shows students how they are doing in class. I rarely move beyond that. However, Jesse's critique of simply and automatically integrating the LMS grade book and rubrics without questioning them got me thinking and reflecting. It was also a bit uncomfortable--which is good. While I have integrated rubrics throughout my assignments and classes, I had largely forgotten what drove that use of rubrics, what caused the initial use of those rubrics. The presentation and talking about rubrics afterward helped spark thinking. Those initial causes were sourced from several sites.

First, there were the initial grading rubrics provided by the first institutions where I taught. Some of the assignments were standardized across all the writing courses and the rubrics were provided to help guide new faculty in their grading and evaluation as well as to make sure that students knew how they would be graded and evaluated.

The second source of rubric reliance or dependence was my desire to avoid or reduce the number of difficult conversations and discussions with students. These conversations were often about the grades the students earned and their dissatisfaction with them. When I did not have a rubric to explain the evaluation, and I did not clearly lay out how many points there were for specific portions, students would often argue about the grading distribution or that some areas were not fair or balanced. That grading was purely subjective--as if faculty were not trained to properly evaluate student work (and in some cases, sadly, some are not). As a new instructor, in some cases students were accurate; in many other cases, students were not. By developing and deploying different rubrics, the rubrics acted as rules of engagement, frames for us to interact with, and it reduced the number of hard conversations because I could point to the rubric. Rather than owning the grading process, it could be externalized to the rubric.

A third source of rubric reliance was that students felt angst or disconnect when they did not have a rubric. At the time, when I taught in composition, many students were worried—rightly so in many cases—about being graded at the whim of the instructor without have a clear sense of exactly what they were being graded on or how they were going to be evaluated. The entire system was black box. Whether I teach undergraduate or graduate students, when a rubric is not presented for grading, many students have angst or worry. This makes me wonder about the overall level of rubric addiction or dependence in education.

More recently, working in a College of Education means faculty are subjected to Accreditation and State teaching licensure rules. This means that we have to produce demonstrable instruments that quantitatively measure whatever it is the accreditors or state council seek. The list is epic long, so I'm avoiding the details. Net result: I must have a grading rubric for the assignment that breaks down along the lines of accreditation expectations so as to perform and give them what they want and need.

Talking to Patrick, Audrey, and Rolin about this after Jesse's presentation--more talking through it--helped me realize just how naturalized rubrics have become in my teaching. They weren't really a decision that I thought too much about: I just included them because, of course!, every assignment in every course needs a rubric. So, yes, there's that. 

The discussion also helped me re-see that while I felt that creating rubrics for most, if not all, of my assignments and grading was making the process transparent to my students, what is also happening, in part at least, is that I was also deflecting responsibility for the grading process on the rubric instead of owning that part of the process in my own work.

What Other Options are There?

More recently, I have sought to empower more student self-evaluations of their own work, but they still those use rubrics that I have developed for the assignments. The student grading and responses are overall pretty solid, and they grade themselves, largely, as well as I do. And this is good. In most cases, if there are issues, it is with students marking themselves lower than the grade that they have earned. As Jesse indicated during his keynote, this is usually a specific gender where this happens--and it's rarely men. That's been my experience as well. I’m happy to give them a higher grade if earned.

Audrey raised the example of Dave Cormier and the negotiated grading contract with students. I'm reluctant for several reasons: I teach completely online, I teach in quarters not semesters, and I've never tried it out face-to-face. So, while an interesting idea, I'm shying away from it for now. Perhaps, though, working this out on different projects, or larger projects in the class, where we create a contract around it and the grading.

When asked, Patrick described how for some of his classes he describes an important component, professionalism, and then indicates how much it is worth. He also describes what professionalism is, and then issues a grade for it at the end. End of story. This sounds interesting, but I'm not sure how well it would work with MS students--and I'd want to tease this out a bit more. Good idea, though.

Still Addicted to Rubrics

I don't plan to drop rubrics, and I'm not sure that I could do so completely, either. I also don't know that I fully want to quit--especially since they are so integral in education for admins, faculty, and students. What I do see as valuable, my real take away from this presentation, is that I need to diversify my approach to grading and evaluation for my classes. Hopefully this can provide me, and more importantly my students, with multiple ways to think about and practice evaluation. This means that they will have more options on how to grade and evaluate their students, and hopefully how to offer them productive and useful feedback, in the future.

Productivity Paradox: NWeLearn 2015

I was fortunate enough to co-present at NWeLearn with Elayne Kuletz again. Last year we presented technology tips. This years we presented on the "Productivity Paradox" and tools to assist with sorting that out.

Our presentation was during the first session on the first day, and it was a pretty full room. I was pretty pleased with the results, especially the last 20 minutes or so where folks shared resources.

Here are our slides.