It’s personal (and professional)

The idea that has inspired me for this week’s #umwdomains topic actually came up in our cohort discussion last time, but it is a theme Weller continues in Chapter 9–the idea of openness, and of mixing the personal with the professional. I’ve struggled with this personal/professional mix. When I first started Facebook, I joined for purely professional reasons–that’s where my students were, and I wanted to connect to them. But then later former students, highschool friends, my parents, my in-laws, my Aunt Bert, my husband’s cousins, my colleagues, my neighbors…everyone joined… and although at first it was fun reconnecting those relationships, I now feel that Facebook is no longer the place for the professional. Its a place where I post cute pictures of my kids and pets, and of my vacations, and maybe links to articles or videos about some issues of importance to me (although I try not to be too contraversial or overbearing, because that friends list is so diverse I’m sure to offend someone, probably a family member). So I thought Twitter and Linkedin might be where I should be professional. But Linked-in is sort of boring, and Twitter is still overwhelming, but I’m trying.

This week I posted on both Facebook and Twitter links to some things that are of great importance to me personally, but also related to my professional interests. Many of you may know that I have an 8 year old daughter with Down Syndrome. My FB friends see many posts of her accomplishments and the cute things she says and does (along with her twin brother, who does not have DS). Disabilities, and the rights of persons with disabilities has taken on new meaning for our family–it’s personal! So two stories really touched on those interests that I’ll share here too. The first is about the Ideal School, in NYC where inclusion is not just a nice term that doesn’t mean much, but a way of learning for both the students with disabilities and the students without:

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This story really spoke to me, because it really seems to be the “ideal” I have of a school, for my children, but also for my students here at UMW. In this place, individual learning and accomplishment is valued. Diversity and difference is valued. Life skills and social skills are taught along with academic subjects.

The second story was the opposite. Not my dream, but my nightmare:“Man with Down Syndrome who died in police custody loved law enforcement”

This is the fear of every parent of a child with a disability–how will they interact with the world when you’re not there to protect them, and how will the world treat them back? I can’t help but think that if there were more “ideal” schools, more “ideal” education at every level and in the workforce, there would be less tragedies like this one.

And so I’m on to the professional–my ideal education. I want student learning to be deeply engaged, to have personal meaning, to be experiential, to happen in a community of fellow learners, and to be fun. So I did an experiment in class last Wednesday.

The students in my Spanish 320G (a topics course on the culture of service and social action in Spain and Latin America) had read a wonderful short story by Emilia Pardo Bazán, a nineteenth-century realist writer. The story depicts the riders of a Madrid street car traveling from the city center through one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods on a happy Sunday afternoon. The idyllic scene is interrupted by a poor woman and her baby, who are short of cash for their ticket. The wealthy travelers take up a collection to cover her fare, and then shower the extra funds on the woman, who seems not to appreciate their generosity, but instead interrupts their lighthearted scene with too much information about her cad of a husband who had abandoned her for another woman. When the narrator tries to console the woman with encouraging words about how she should look on the bright side, that at least she has her son to care for her in the future, the poor woman reveals her baby’s face and the blank stare of the blind child.

Instead of a typical class discussion on various aspects of the story–themes, characters, imagery–I divided the class into 7 groups and assigned each part of the story to depict in images, each choosing a quote from the story as the image’s caption. I gave them only about 20 minutes to do it, and set up a site on google docs where each group was to create its slide. We immediately had problems–web browsers that weren’t supported by Google, difficulty transferring images saved on Macs–, enough that we had to end class without presenting the show. But when I went back to it in preparation for Friday’s class, I was so pleased by their work, and of how each group really was able to select both text and image that got at the essence of the greatness of Pardo Bazán’s story. I loved it so much that I posted it on Slideshare, even though I’m not quite sure where the images were taken from, and perhaps I’ll need to pull it down if someone questions me on it. But still, as an in-class activity, I loved how this got students to approach literature in some different ways, and then to work together to create something that communicated their understanding. Take a look!

The “pedagogy of abundance” Newt style??

Newt Gingrich is thinking about some of the same things we are, and he’s optimistic about the same sort of “abundance” model Weller metions in Chapter 8–that is in the style of Google’s Sebastian Thrun!

 (pardon the crass commercialism with the ad at the beginning–the price I must pay to embed and MSNBC video!)

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So what does it mean when politicians see this free, open-to-all-model as the future? Of course Gingrich is somewhat of an academic himself, so he believes he speaks with authority, not just as the typical politician. But the worlds of politics and academics are coming into conflict more than ever, regardless the party–President Obama’s SOTU is further evidence of this,(Chronicle of Higher Education “Obama’s Accreditation Proposals Surprise Higher- Education Leaders“) . I agree with Weller that the scarcity model of education might be coming to an end, but what do we need to consider as we academics (hopefully) help shape the abundance model? And where do the liberal arts fit? Where does a small institution like Mary Washington fit?

What’s the point (of research)?

#umwdomains. Weller, in his chapters on research and the idea of digital research (4-5), tries to define just what constitutes research. But I find myself not asking “what is research”? but rather “why research”? What’s the point? The answer to that question has a very different answer for different people depending on where they work, what they research, what stage they are in their careers. For me, when I first started down the path to becoming a professor of Spanish, I did research to please others–first my professors, then my dissertation committee, then the readers at various journals to, in turn, please potential employers, then to please my supervisors and senior colleagues.  Not that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, but personall fulfillment wasn’t my main objective. Then when I came to Mary Washington, I actually felt a freedom I hadn’t felt before in my research. Proving a “pattern of professional activity” for tenure and promotion was not a very big hurdle for me, which then allowed me not to worry so much about a certain number of articles, or publishing in certain places, or getting that book by a certain point. It allowed me to pursue my interests in research. I went after publishing a book, which took time with my heavy teaching load, but research began to provide real personal and professional rewards to me. I began to see how my research and writing spilled over into the classroom and vice versa. Still, I didn’t really see myself as part of a larger researching community. Sure, I went to conferences and I read others’ articles, but it wasn’t until I started keeping a blog, briefly, in 2006-2007, as I started a new research project that I understood my research as part of something much larger. I started the blog for my students–to include them in on my research and writing process. But then I got a comment from a doctoral student from Madrid who was researching a similar topic. That initial contact led to wonderful and very fruitful professional relationship that then led me (and my new colleague in Spain) to other connections.  Since then I have come to see my work not in isolataion–not as something that I do for others, or even for myself, but rather that I do in dialogue, and as a small part of a much larger process of knowledge creation. Last week, Cervantes Virtual–an important digital library in Spain–announced its new page on María Rosa Gálvez, a late-Enlightenment playwright who was one of the women I wrote my dissertation on (and eventually a number of articles and a chapter in my book)back when only a handful of people even cared about her work. Another wonderful colleague at the University of Alicante, Helena Establier (whom I’ve never met in person actually!), coordinated this effort, which brings together research from many different scholars, including me! I think it represents a little of what Weller was getting at in his chapters about a new way of thinking about scholarship. Certainly my thinking about research has evolved.

http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/portales/maria_rosa_de_galvez/

imagen_portada

 

Open or Closed?

Below are some questions and thoughts I think I’ll raise with my cohorts that were sparked by the Weller reading this week, all related to the idea of open education/open access:

How do we deal with the ever-present tensions between open and closed access? Between exclusivity and inclusivity? I see this tension in so many ways in my life as an academic. On the one hand, there is so much more information available to me as a researcher than before. When I was writing my dissertation in the 90’s, only those who had the money to travel and spend months in the libraries and archives of Madrid had access to many of the texts that today are freely  available on Google Books. However, an exclusive private enterprise like Gale-Cengage can also sell digital access to the collections of the British  Library at a price only wealthy institutions can pay, thus excluding small public institutions like our own. MOOCS offer free and open access to the masses (for now) to professors and courses that previously only the most elite could come in contact with, but is it really open education and is it access at all? The digitally native teenagers referenced as part of the net generation represent only one demographic–those wealthy enough to actually be consumers (and sometimes producers) of technology. What about the rest of them–for most of whom their only real engagement with technology is through their phone? I’m guessing some of our students fall in that category when they come to us.

 

 

Hello Domain of One’s Own

Think I’ve figured out this subdomain and subdirectory distinction finally. I decided to keep my blog separate from the  main domain site, at least until I have a clearer idea of what I intend to do with that site for #umwdomains ..

A word about the title I chose for this blogging site: “Bosquejos”. Here are the definitions from the Real Academia Española website:

bosquejo.
(De bosque).
1. m. Traza primera y no definitiva de una obra pictórica, y en general de cualquier producción del ingenio.
2. m. Idea vaga de algo.

en ~.
1. loc. adj. No perfeccionado, no concluido.

I like the title Bosquejos for many reasons. First, it comes from the word “bosque” or “forest” and I certainly feel like I’m entering a dense forest here–both exciting and scary at the same time. It can mean a sketch, either visual or of “any product of ingenuity” and I hope to be sketching out some interesting ideas at least.  The second definition–“a vague idea of something” is certainly what I’ll be posting here. Lastly, the associations with the last definition listed “not perfected, not concluded” is an apt description of a blog I think. That and “Bosquejo” begins with “b”, like “blog”.

The header picture is a photo I took of the entrance to a walled garden in Salamanca, Spain, where fictional hero Calisto might have met Melibea in the early Renaissance work The Celestina.  You can see where the star-crossed lovers might have fallen for each other, and how they could have fallen to their deaths from this hilltop garden that overlooks the Tormes River. I took my URES students there last May and it certainly sparked our imaginations! Hopefully my leap in the Faculty Initiative will have a much better end than for the poor young lovers!