Friday, December 16, 2011

Pandemic consumption

I have a weakness for English majors.  A case in point is Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University, and editor of The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking.  In the eight-page introduction alone, I found several gems:

  • In wondering about 6,901 comments posted in response to a 2,500-word newspaper piece, Bauerlein questions "what readers think when they encounter 4,838 comments to a news story and believe that post #4,384 really matters.  Is this democratic process or fruitless vanity?"
  • "How many decades passed between the invention of the telephone and its daily use by 90 percent of the population?  Today, the path from private creation to pandemic consumption is measured in months."
  • The phrase "reclusiveness in public spaces" aptly describes how we "look the same" to others (at the coffee shop, for example) whether we are reading a book online, checking Facebook, or contributing to a malicious gossip site.  "Nobody can tell, and that precise shelter removes one of the long-standing curbs on vicious conduct, namely, exposure."
  • And, in the final paragraph:  "If we let the human realities that accompanied those older tools fall into oblivion...then we lose a part of our humanity, a historical sense of our recent selves."

More reading material...woo hoo!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Things fall apart

Poets craft distillates of our existence and experience.  Take Yeats, for example, who wrote in his The Second Coming that "(t)hings fall apart; the centre cannot hold."  Though Yeats was writing in the aftermath of the war that could only be described later as World War I and he was, arguably, deeply affected by what he had experienced, his observation transcends space and time.  Things do fall apart, despite our efforts.  And perhaps that is as it should be.

We create, we quest, we seek, we strive.  Our possessions slowly take possession of us; our tools change us.  We journey to the center, only to find that it cannot hold, regardless of the intended destination.  I am as much a product of my culture as of my DNA, which may explain some of our Western lament that things won't stay where we put them.

I realize there is a fine line between fatalism and acceptance, largely because I dance all over it most of the time.  I can argue passionately (for those who've read more of Yeats, feel free to make your own interpretation) for preserving Knowledge (which assumes there is a known or knowable body of same) and doing so in my personal favorite format--the written word.  I love my books and, while I appreciate the benefits of technology and the vast stores of information available via the internet, I am loathe to part with my sacred (to me) texts.  

But I am aware that part of my love for books is the necessary boundaries they provide. Generally speaking, my tomes don't fall apart and they hold their center quite well, both literally and figuratively.  They provide a comforting illusion, perhaps, that allows me a respite from the realities Yeats captures so well.

So, I find it oddly comforting and disturbing that David Weinberger (co-director of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society) has given this title to his latest book:  Too Big to Know:  Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.

I can't wait to read it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seeing the forest...and the trees

We call them Instructor and Course Evaluations and I just received the latest ones.  I tell students that I separate the feedback forms (we are in the midst of a transition to electronic feedback, so this is the last time I'll be able to use this process) into three groups based upon the pattern of responses to the 21 computer-scored statements on the front.  The three groups I use are (1) Walks on Water, (2) Spawn of Satan, and (3) Other.  I glance at the Walks on Water data to see where I could do better, I ignore the Other pile, and I study the Spawn of Satan pile to see just how many students were dissatisfied and in what areas.  I realize (and explain to students) that I am neither good enough to walk on water nor bad enough to be a true spawn of the devil, but I understand how the process works when student feedback is limited to a one-shot event.

So, after reviewing the front sheet, I turn all the forms over to the section for student comments and pull out the forms with writing.  Then I read the comments carefully, trying to understand the feedback and glean what I can for the next semester.  This is my favorite comment from the latest group:

She presents the material from the book effectively, but the assignments that we do that supplement the simulation are ambiguous and it's hard to know exactly what she wants.  Then she grades somewhat hard so that makes it difficult.  The grading system has changed in some parts and I'm still confused on what I'm actually being graded on.  But she is a good lecturer and does care about the students.  She enjoys teaching and is passionate about the subject so I respect that.  She is a little sassy but keeps it tolerable most of the time.  Overall, she is better than most I've had in (the department).

What I like is the student's ability to provide constructive, useful feedback...and how accurately my challenges and successes for the semester were evaluated.  I did struggle with grading this required course taught by multiple instructors.  I'll struggle with it again next semester, as I try to balance the content we are all expected to teach with the content I think is more useful and interesting to the students.  And, in the midst of that balancing act, I'll wrestle again with how to evaluate (aka grade) both the common content and the unique content.  Clearly, I have room for improvement.

But what I like even better is the student's ability to see both strengths and weaknesses.  We talk in class about how giving and receiving feedback is often challenging, both in professional roles and in personal roles.  The tendency to allow one or two areas of difficulty, disagreement, or disappointment to skew perception of the whole is far more prevalent than the ability to see both the parts and the whole.

I can't take credit for this student's ability to provide useful feedback, but I can certainly gain from it.  I'm not at all opposed to some ambiguity in assignments, but I can provide more clarity and a bit more consistency when it makes sense to do so.  I'll continue to be passionate...and probably won't worry too much about being a little sassy.  Some days, it's the only coping mechanism I have.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Though I generally try to take both the high road and the optimistic perspective, it's harder some days than others.  As I begin my personal transition from several months of full-time project management back to teaching next semester, I am struck by the stark contrast between academia and what we'll just call The Real World.

The contrast is not just in my own line of sight, but also in the communication I receive from former students.  And it may the academic version of iatrogenesis.

Colleges and universities are both institutions of higher learning and institutions of hiring.  And it's the hiring part that seems somewhat quaint and curious, when compared to other employers.  In what may very well be a historical relic, colleges and universities strive to protect academic "freedom" through a process of granting a tenured or hired-for-life (essentially) status to those academics who devote themselves to studying and writing about their chosen discipline or subject.

The unintended consequence of a search for someone willing to start early, focus on a subject matter (researching, writing, publishing), and provide value to the university in return for the hiring investment is the early identification of potential tenured faculty members while they are finishing their own doctoral programs.  In fact, the last year of the doctoral program is understood to be heavily focused on interviewing with hiring institutions of higher learning.  And this is where the disconnect begins, I think.

The brightest doctoral students become the most-sought-after junior faculty members.  They continue to delve into their chosen fields, standing upon the shoulders of the learned who came before them, and adding to the body of knowledge through their research and writing.  And they are entrusted with teaching in their chosen field, the field in which they are experts.  They become specialists who teach what they have studied.

What seems missing in this equation is the practical application of a subject matter or expertise, since the majority of the students in a four-year undergraduate program will be hired by non-academic employers.  And it's those non-academic employers who are seeking problem solving ability, critical thinking, teamwork, innovation, and a nimble responsiveness to change.  Today, this does not appear to be a workable  model.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Made in America

In the midst of the usual morning madness to get us both out the door and to our respective destinations on time, my teenager asks "Is WD-40 an American company?" Since the non sequitur is a common occurrence in our conversations, I offer "I'm not really sure; why don't you Google it?" without missing a beat.  And, since focused pursuit of the information in question is also a common occurrence, it takes only a few minutes to hear "I thought so.  It had to be, because Toby Keith sings about it."  And it's a perfect moment.

What's perfect about this moment is the combination of natural curiosity (hers), testing a hypothesis (also hers), and the tracking of seemingly separate thought processes (ours).  My daughter had been listening carefully to the lyrics of Toby Keith's Made in America:

My old man's that old man
Spent his life livin' off the land
Spend a little more in the store for a tag
In the back that says "USA"
He won't buy nothin' that he can't fix
With WD-40 and a Craftsman wrench
He ain't prejudiced, he's just
Made in America
Made in America.  It's a song title, a television series (quite a good one, in fact), a news worthy topic, and a union rallying cry.  Google it and you'll find "about 953,000,000 results."  We talk about it, we write about, we read about it, we debate about it...and we are, as a nation, still fairly clueless about it.

To have products that are made in America--or products made in any country, as it's not just about the country where I happen to live--requires facilities and skilled workers.  And that--the skilled workers--is what's on my mind as a citizen, an educator and a parent.

I can't express it any better than the interview provocatively titled "John Ratzenberger on Why We're Becoming a Third World Country":
The view of most guidance counselors is that if you don't go to college you're a failure.  And it's just not true.  The manual arts have always taken precedence over the fine arts.  There's no exception to that rule.  Michelangelo couldn't have gone to work until someone built that ceiling.
We continue to measure success by the color of our collar. That, too, is made in America.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I know his name now

Recently Chris, a former student of mine, posted this on his Facebook page (which I quote here with his permission):
When Steve Jobs passed away everyone was bawling because a billionaire died. A man who evaded taxes, denied fathering his daughter, cheated others out of organ transplants, basically sued for or stole most of his ideas and did very little philanthropically with his mountains of cash. He was a beloved crook and marketing talent who swindled communities into some feverish orgy of brand loyalty.
Meanwhile, every last person who has ever touched a computer in basically any form owe their livelihoods, entertainment, ability to communicate, hell even their lives to Dennis Ritchie. He was a Titan to the IT world who truly crafted a thing of infinite genius, and everyone, everyone has been standing on his shoulders since. Here is someone to write articles about and ponder their impact on us all, and no one knows his name.
Given the time I've spent with Chris, I know his opinions are thoughtful and based upon considerable research.  And, since I was one of the people who did not know Dennis Ritchie's name, I began to read. 
In Greek mythology, the Titans were the gods who ruled before being overthrown by the younger Olympians. First generation Titans include Uranus, Oceanus, Cronus, Phoebe, and Mnemosyne (one of my favorites); their off-spring include Atlas and Prometheus.  Before being overthrown, they were powerful rulers during the Golden Age.  The 12 Olympians (including Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and Poseidon) who replaced the Titans are arguably better known to purveyors of comic books, superheros, and popular movies.  

Dennis Ritchie "helped shape the digital era."  Oddly or, perhaps, poetically, he died just 12 days after Steve Jobs and is rightly described as a Titan:

Ritchie was the principal designer of the C programming language and co-inventor of the operating system Unix, two inventions that revolutionized modern technology.
The C programming language was widely considered simple and elegant compared to the more cryptic and inaccessible B language that preceded it, and is now widely used. Based on C, Ritchie and Kenneth L. Thompson invented Unix, which is the foundation of today’s predominant operating systems.
Not a flashy man, Ritchie worked for one company (Bell Labs) his entire career and did not seek the spotlight. He was well liked, well respected, and paved the way for the younger Olympians who stood on his shoulders...and who are far better known.

I'm left with the same question Chris raised.  But now I know Dennis Ritchie's name.  Thank you, Chris.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some days are like living in a blender

Yesterday, it was Frank Deford on NPR, quoting former University of California, Berkeley chancellor Clark Kerr:
The three purposes of the University?  To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.
Today, it was finding a forgotten electronic bookmark to Max Ehrmann's Desiderata and wondering how, in my youth, I missed this:
Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.  Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Two months ago, it was a faculty retreat on excellence in teaching, where a colleague pondered how to engage students who do not wish to be engaged.  And for the past several weeks, it's been my walks across campus, observing the masses of students, reminding myself that each and every one of them is loved by someone (whether parent, sibling, or friend) and that very few of them are on our campus because they love learning.

And if that weren't enough to keep my mind occupied for a while, I've also been remembering a Mark Helprin quote from Winter's Tale:
(T)ime was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given - so we track it, in linear fashion piece by piece.  Time however can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once.
How, then, do teachers rise to the challenge of engaging hearts and minds, knowing full well the lessons needed, understanding the youthful resistance to learning, and realizing much we offer will not be embraced for many years (if at all)--all without giving in or giving up?  I wonder if each one of us who teaches (regardless of where or what) must struggle to find our own place to stand, one that provides enough distance to see it all at once and enough proximity to remain engaged.

Some days I get it in an instant; others, not so much.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First things first

My reading lately includes ethics texts (for a January course), daily thoughts on gratitude, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and Facebook (with some Celia Rivenbark for balance).  In the midst of this (and other) reading, there have been recurring references to Anna Quindlen's writing and life.  The most recent example is a Quindlen quote from this morning:  
The ultimate act of bravery doesn't usually take place on a battlefield.  It takes place in your heart when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclination, and your soul by listening to its clean, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied messages of a timid world.
Being immersed as I am in reading and musing, the intersection of the topics, the quote, and the timing prompted me to wonder about some things...such as where we learn to listen to that clear voice of direction...why we accept the voices of others...and what happens when we stop being curious, thinking for ourselves, and digging deeper into a subject for the sheer joy of it all.

So, I took the time to read a bit more about Anna Quindlen, a woman who transitioned seamlessly from writing Newseek columns to writing novels in order to honor her own inclination to be home with her children and to write fiction.  And in the process of reading about Quindlen, I wondered about the source of the quote, as the punctuation in the version I saw seemed...well, wrong, especially for a writer of Quindlen's caliber.  So, honoring the voice of one of my own beloved muses, I searched for the primary text, found the source of the quote, and the punctuation I would have expected.

I don't always take the time to put first things first, to find the source and read it for myself, to grapple with my own understanding (or lack thereof).  When I do, though, for the sheer joy of satisfying intellectual curiosity, there are few things more satisfying.  If I can find a way to bring a small part of this into the classroom...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Women who work

It's called synchronicity.  My choice to read women authors is followed by a link from a former student (who took my strategy class) to research into what makes teams smarter. According to research from Carnegie Mellon University and the MIT Sloan School of Management, women are an important part of successful teams:  
It's a preliminary finding--and not a conventional one.  The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group.  But so far, the data show, the more women, the better.  
And why might that be the case?
Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.
Given the amount of teamwork we require of our students (that same strategy class) and the quest to understand why some students perform better than others, I shared the link with my colleagues.  By return email, I received this from a male colleague (might this be a good place to insert that all my colleagues who teach this particular course are male?):
I have found (from my practical experience) that this is true.  The managers in my research group at Walmart were 70% female and the hardest (working)/ most productive members. Before that, in civil engineering, I found the female design engineers and project managers to be the brightest, most productive team engineers.
As a woman, I find this both affirming and frustrating.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Trash talk

New trash cans today!
Though this may not reflect well on the academy, it is our reality today.  We have new trash cans in our offices.  They're small.  And they are small for a reason.  The goal is to get us to think before we trash. 

And if we needed an example of how easily we can miss the important for the, shall we say, less important, this is the day.  From an email sent by a staff member in the associate dean's office:
I have received so many emails about the new trashcans, and they are all thought provoking.  Many people have strong feelings for and against the cans. The question I am hearing more than any other is: “WHY are they SO small?” 
The email provides a link  to a recent New York Times article about trash cans (at another academic institution) that are even smaller than our new ones.  The ones in the article are only 6" tall and it seems they're all the rage on that campus.   By contrast, our new ones are quite a bit larger.  

This leaves me wondering... how is it we miss the irony of having time and energy to engage in email eloquence regarding the size of our trash cans?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Women who write

In my high school and college years, I spent a great deal of time arguing the similarities between men and women, going so far as to attribute the vast majority of gender differences to nurture.  The nature versus nurture discussion continues and what we know for sure is that we don't really know.  The most sweeping conclusion that can be drawn is "humans are not hard-wired."

I've learned some things, experienced a bit more of the world, and taken on more roles since my teens and early twenties.  I have a deeper appreciation of the rich and varied interplay between gender and milieu, as well as the role of, well, roles.  And regardless of all the science, the known, the unknown, the questioned, and the hypothesized, I am quite certain that, as a group, women who write do not write in the same way as men who write.  Perhaps it has less to do with nature than with life experiences and those pesky roles than tend, more often than not, to define by way of limiting.

As I think about the courses I will be teaching next semester and the changes I will be making in both content and approach, I am thinking about why I read what I read.  And, during September, I've decided to read only women authors, not for any particular subject matter expertise, but to experience the difference in voice.  Today, it's Molly Ivins.  Waiting in the wings are Annie Dillard, Maya Angelou, Merlin Stone, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and a host of others.  Though I'll miss my favorite men who write, I'm looking forward to some time with the girls.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A lot to learn

This fall, my friend Julie is teaching high school English for the first time as a 'real' teacher and she is unabashedly excited.  Her students will have what every student deserves--a teacher doing what she/he loves.  Julie returned to school after becoming a mom; several semesters of coursework and student teaching later, she received her Master of Arts in Teaching.   

When I saw Julie the week of new teacher orientation, she made a passing comment about seeing the Benchmark results for classes taught by her colleagues (the other English teachers) as part of the formal presentation...and wondering how her own results will look next year.

Yesterday, the Mayor posted on Facebook (the fact that our mayor posts--and 'likes'--frequently is one of many charming things about our city) a quote by educational philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins:
The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
One of the responses to the Mayor's post came from a friend of mine, the single father of a son starting sixth grade:
Now the object is to prepare them for the Benchmark Exams, not to educate.
This morning, a shared link about Molly Ivins caught my eye and connected the dots. Julie, the Mayor, and Molly Ivins, three highly educated people, committed to their own education and the education of others.  Maynard Hutchins and a single father wondering about the object of education.  And they can't all be right.

Except that they are.  

We need Julie's enthusiasm, the Mayor's willingness to engage in the dialog, Hutchins' legacy (which, by the way, is a continuation of a far older Socratic legacy), parents who challenge our educational priorities, and Ivins' example of refusing to abandon the belief that speaking out (over and over again) will make a difference.  

I have so much to learn...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Can those who do also teach?

It's another semester where I am not teaching and I find myself wondering why it is that I miss the classroom so much during these semesters 'off.'  Classes start a week from today and I already miss updating the syllabus, making revisions to course plans, and wondering (as I do each semester) how many of the names I'll actually be able to attach to the faces.  The specifics don't matter as much, I suppose, as the yearning.

What is it about the learning that I miss?  I've pondered this question a fair amount over the last few years.  And, in the final analysis (which, of course, we never reach) it seems to be the creativity, the lack of rote, the newness in the sameness.   Nothing seems to satisfy as much as the opportunity to re-invent--or to believe that we can.

When my daughter was younger and we had a near-steady diet of child-friendly fare, I realized how many stories deal with beginnings, with cycles, with birth-death-life.  Each day, each season, each year allows us to re-new, re-create, re-discover.  The resonance of beginnings, of the freshly sharpened pencil, the empty grade book, the chance to get it better, righter, different this time.

Whatever the reason, I miss being part of the preparations.  And I am counting the weeks until January.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Do it yourself

I'm reasonably sure that shower heads are not supposed to fall off when adjusted.  In fact, I'm absolutely positive that this is a malfunction suggesting the (somewhat urgent, perhaps) need for replacement of the shower head.  And can I make a link to education and teaching?  You bet I can.

I will be making a trip to the nearest DIY ('do it yourself' store) to purchase a replacement shower head and, well, do it myself.  Despite knowing friends who could, perhaps, do it more quickly and having plumbers in my community who could just do it for me, it would be inconsistent with most everything I write and say to simply turn this over to someone else.  Far too many of us in the 'developed' world have lost the ability to do much more than drive to work and use computers to help us analyze and communicate data.  Though I hear less of it now than I did in previous circumstances, I cringe when I hear 'outsource' used in conjunction with household maintenance, activities of daily living (cooking, for example), and the raising of our children.

The single act of replacing the shower head (which has, in case you're wondering, cracked at the juncture where the threaded section attaches) won't change the world or make much of a difference.  But embracing the mindset that capable people make better citizens--which includes better parents, better teachers, better employees, and just better people--and practicing that mindset to the fullest extent possible may make me a better parent, teacher, and friend.

Thoreau would have approved, I think.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You just can't plan these things...

Today, in a completely unexpected encounter, I found myself talking about the Capstone course to an executive at a large retail company.  In the midst of a discussion about sustainability, I went off (or on and on, depending upon perspective) about the shift I had observed in students who took the Capstone course this summer.

I found myself explaining that I'd taken a risk (which is not a surprise, by now, is it?) by substituting 'the lens of sustainability' for the traditional business simulation associated with Capstone.  As I rhapsodized (you had to be there) about the shift I'd observed in some of the students over the course of the semester, I heard myself explaining how some students moved from a negative or skeptical perspective (about the relevance of sustainability for business) to a recognition of the business value in thinking about the world--and the people in it--as a resource worth safeguarding.

And then?  She asked to see how I'd designed my course.  It seems that her job is, in part, helping consumers make the same shift from skepticism--which, in a retail context, may be more accurately described as cynicism--to understanding, if not embracing, the value of protecting and renewing resources.

Who knew?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Endings are beginnings

I just walked out of the classroom, down the stairs, and across the courtyard to the building where I office.  It was the final session of the summer for the Managerial M.B.A. program for full-time professionals.  It's the end of their two-year program.

I don't know how they do it, these students with jobs and families, many of whom commute from other cities for the Saturday classes.  It's not just the effort required to attend class, it's also the level of effort they put into their work, which translates to high-quality finished products.  These highly-motivated students want to be in school and want it enough to work hard.  They are a joy to teach.  And, as with the bright, motivated teams with whom I've worked, these students challenge me to work hard.  In some ways, it doesn't feel as though I'm teaching at all.

And the last sentence is the shadow side, perhaps, of this experience.  The students who need teaching the least are the ones who are the easiest to teach.  Instructors love the self-motivated high performers.  Part of why we love them is because they make us look good.

The structure of this capstone course means that I lectured very little and spent the majority of class time with small groups of students engaged in work; as a result, I was fortunate enough to be able to know them far better.  And I will miss them.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm all thumbs

A recent CNN article has been on my mind lately, as it's likely that sitting at my computer to work, sitting in my car to commute or travel, and sitting for more than 3-4  hours a day is deleterious to my health.  The simple truth is that I sit too much and it's bad for me. Or, as The Cat in the Hat might say, I sit, sit, sit and don't like it one bit (with apology to Dr. Seuss).

It's been on my mind because I am teaching a summer class that meets for four hours on Saturdays and I'm talking to my daughter about college, jobs, and life.  I've come to the conclusion that, with the exception of professional athletes, we've pretty much kicked all non-office work to the curb, at least in the U.S.  The 'smart' kids go to college to get white-collar jobs.  The 'important' jobs have titles, offices, and dress codes.  We have entire groups (classes, perhaps) of people who drive from home to somewhere else to do work--work that requires a great deal of sitting--with little tangible benefit.  And, in that process, we've become completely reliant on others to grow our food, build our homes, and provide maintenance for many of the things we own.

I'm not a proponent of total self-reliance or a return to Thoreau's Walden Pond.  But I'm troubled about our whole-sale adoption of the wonders and benefits of technology without a healthy counting of the cost.  And I wonder about the message--whether intended or not--that the 'best' jobs require a college education, a computer, an office, and a whole lot of sitting.

I can tell you for a fact that I am happier and healthier when my own life is much more balanced...when I use my head, my hands, and my heart in pretty equal measure.  I'm not sure we realize how much damage is being done by the slow transition from being whole people to being little more than brains with thumbs.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saturday's child has to work for a living

There are defining phrases, songs, books, poems, etc. that provide almost-instant identification of age cohorts.  Princess Phone ("It's little...It's lovely...It lights"), to my peers, means the pink phone all teenage girls wanted.  Parents didn't really have princess phones and no self-respecting male would even use one. 

For my students, it means...well, nothing.  No point of reference whatsoever.  Same with rotary dial, party line (not the political reference), or "one ringie-dingie, two ringie-dingie".  The contextual meaning, the history, and the related life experiences--such as having grandparents whose calls were sometimes 'overheard' on their party line--are lost in the translation.

People under the age of 45 are slightly more likely to be familiar with the children's nursery rhyme from which the title for this blog post was taken.  The rhyme came to mind when I was thinking about the full-time working students who have been attending MBA classes for two years...on Saturdays.  I've joined them twice this summer for an 8:00 a.m. class, to which many of them have to fly or drive the night before.  And most have an afternoon class, making a full 8-5 day of lecture and homework.

These students are working hard, sacrificing family time and leisure activities for the MBA they hope will improve their career opportunities, make them 'more competitive,' or simply keep them employed.  In many ways, these students live and work in a world far different from the one of their parents and their grandparents.  The phones are different, but the work ethic seems refreshingly similar.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It's a lot like life

One of my early lessons as a student of taekwondo has stood me well, both inside and outside the kwan (school).  As I was struggling to learn the traditions, patterns, and language of the kwan, I looked around me for cues and models, noticing black belts in the same row, taking the same lesson, going through the same patterns. When I asked one of the black belts (who appeared both competent and intimidating) why he was in  a class with beginner white belts, his response is one I often share with students:  When you achieve the level of black belt proficiency, that signifies you are ready to begin the beginning.

By the time children are ready to leave home, parents are figuring out how to parent.  By the time we finish a major work project, we are mastering the skills that would have helped us start.  And when we finish a class or course of study, we have the knowledge we needed to begin.

We live our lives simultaneously forward and backward.  It's an odd thing to advance in one direction while processing in another; moving forward while understanding backward.  It's not that we don't learn and take the wisdom or knowledge with us; we do.  But there is something in our make up--something captured in the differing languages of child psychologists and poets, some essentially human ability to think about thinking--that folds time, capturing both past and future in the present.

As each semester ends, I feel competent to begin, wishing I could incorporate what I've just learned into what I've just done.  In that way, as in so many others, each semester is--at least for me--a lot like life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Food for the soul

I'm in the midst of another (new) course and find myself richer for the experiences I had and the risks I took with the phenomenal students in the Spring.  In Innovation and Creativity, for example, the final assignment was one of four options:

  1. Provide a course review (what I have learned, what was most/least beneficial, what I will use, etc.).
  2. Write a personal assessment (my Myers-Briggs type, my strengths/weaknesses, etc. and how/whether those attributes will contribute to or hinder my ability to be creative and drive innovation in my job).
  3. Create a presentation (Prezi, cartoon, poster board...anything other than PowerPoint) that expresses my view of (a) what it means to be creative and (b) the value of innovation.
  4. Research and package/present the best sources to nurture and support your personal and professional creativity.
I received things that made me laugh.  A few surprised me, either in content or in sheer creativity.  Some made me think.  Others touched me on a personal level:

Although many of the assignments were frustrating at first, as I was completing them I found that I actually enjoyed completing them. My favorite assignment was the “thinking about thinking” assignment. I honestly did not realize how routine and unnecessarily stressful my daily life was until I completed that assignment. By doing something different every day I found myself feeling more accomplished and comfortable with more creative efforts. It has motivated me to make a conscious effort to incorporate change in my daily routine, and aim to try new things whenever possible.
Similarly, despite the fact the class constantly forced me to work outside my comfort zone, the days when we sat on the floor or listened to music were among my favorites because it was a refreshing change from the typical class. I enjoyed the class session focused on design and the utility of Google reader and blogs. I have discovered a new love for blogs. I use Google reader on a daily basis, and I find that I know have started seeking and searching for information in a completely different way. I feel more connected to the world and informed about current issues.
The most important thing I am leaving the class with is that I have a need to be creative. I discovered that many of the class assignments were the only source and outlet of creativity in my life. After completing many of the assignments I felt satisfied, almost like a feeding a hunger pain. The class reconnected me with my creative side, which seemed to be buried underneath all the accounting curriculum and the “hustle and bustle” of everyday life. It has inspired me to start a blog and even extend my creative efforts to the kitchen. Being creative has become a release from the tasks that consume my every day, and it is necessary to my well-being and future happiness.
There's really nothing else to say...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Renaissance, renewal, and roaming

I turned in grades this week for the spring semester, which means the semester officially ended.  My summer class begins on Saturday.  It's the circle of academia.

The students who took Innovation and Creativity taught me as much as I (may have) taught them. Their willingness to engage in the course, in the assignments, and in dialog with me was affirmation that I am where I need to be--in an environment where learning can happen.  It may not matter, in the final analysis, who is learning--it matters that learning occurs.  Perhaps learning begets learning...

For the students who said that the assignments themselves were a chore, but that writing about them wasn't, I am thankful; you got it.  To the students who wanted more guest speakers, I apologize.  For the many students who took risks they didn't want to take and wrote beautifully about their experiences, I am grateful.  It will be a privilege to teach this course again next Spring.

My summer course is another new one for me...and I will, again, be taking a risk, both with changes in content and in delivery.  I'm a bit anxious, pressed for time, and grateful for the semester I just had.  At this point, I'm almost ready for the Summer semester to begin, at least as far as the course plan, syllabus, and Day One lecture.  But I'd be lying if I said it was in the bag.

Seekers, by definition, never arrive.  Seekers journey.  And, when renewed, seekers roam to new places...and such is, indeed, the circle of academia.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Accounts receivable or accounts paid?

This is the last week of classes for the spring semester.  Students have mostly checked out, instructors are wondering why they assigned all the work that requires grading, and everyone is counting the days until the semester is over.

In the graduate-level Innovation and Creativity class, groups are making presentations about innovations within the industry they chose. Today, a group of six, all of whom are graduating with a Masters in Accountancy, almost brought tears to my eyes.  For their presentation on "An Accountant's Guide to Creativity," each student wore a white t-shirt with one of the following in simple black letters: 

  • Be Audit You Can Be
  • Nice Assets
  • It's Accrual World
  • Filing Single?
  • Straight Line Inebriation
  • Let's Get Fiscal
They were well-prepared, proud to be part of the accounting profession, and full of the confidence, hope, and promise associated with youth.  As a group, they took a risk, stepped outside the expectations associated with their profession, and lampooned the stereotypes about accountants (including a video of John great is that?).

They hit a home run.  They rocked.  They made me proud.  And the photo they took of themselves and sent to me after their presentation?  Looking at it makes me smile.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Standing firm, awash in ambiguity

I'm beginning to get more questions about what my daughter wants to study in college.  The questions, you'll notice, assume that she will go. They also assume she knows now (well before her senior year in high school) what she wants to study.  And right below the surface is another assumption--that there is a direct correlation between college major and profession or career.  

According to national surveys, (employers) want to hire 22-year-olds who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data, and they’re perfectly happy to hire English or biology majors. Most Ivy League universities and elite liberal arts colleges, in fact, don’t even offer undergraduate business majors.
The article, a collaboration between The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education, describes many business schools as the last hope for students who are unable to perform elsewhere and questions the rigor of the typical B-school education.  And it gives me pause, for reasons personal and professional.

My undergraduate education was obtained at a private liberal arts college. I was well-prepared for the career choices I've made, most of which had little to do with my undergraduate major.   In contrast, however, is a comment I overheard a student in my class make to a class-mate; he was indignant that his instructor "doesn't even have a Ph.D. in business."  This assumption that the undergraduate major is of more value than demonstrated ability (regardless of degree field) is intriguing...and flies in the face of reality.

We look for easy answers.  We assume a simple linear model, starting with high school subject matter excellence, then early career choice, selection of the college major aligned with that career choice, and a happily-ever-after model for success.  The only problem with this model is that it rarely works.  

I teach at a B-school in the hope that it matters.  Some days, I wonder.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning can be painful for the instructor

In the final stretch of the academic semester, the interest always builds.  Not in the content of the course, however, but in The Grade and what it will take to get The Grade by the end of the semester.  It's perilously close to the end of my first semester to teach innovation and creativity.  I am not happy with the method I established at the beginning of the semester for determining grades and neither is a subset of my students.

In courses I've taught before, I have a reasonably robust method of assessing student learning.  I've clarified the expectations, developed rubrics (where they are of benefit), and created assignments that measure progress toward course objectives...more or less.  Because I'm never completely happy with whatever process is in place to determine The Grade.

In the innovation and creativity course, my logic at the beginning of the semester was to assess completion (rather than quality) of assignments in the majority of the homework or in-class work.  Thus, there have been frequent, short assignments with low point value (10-20 points), so that students could be candid or creative or selectively omit assignments.  The total number of points earned (at least in some portions of the course) was left to the student.  The unintended consequences were a record-keeping challenge for me and a fallacy of composition for students.

I ended up monitoring submission and/or completion of numerous assignments with low point value for 35 students; some of the students chose not to complete early assignments (due to the low point value) and are now unhappy with The Grade.  The goal of allowing students freedom to be expressive, take risks, and manage their level of interaction has worked very well for some, well enough for most, and extremely poorly for the rest.

The easy solution is to limit the number of assignments and provide more structure relative to the content.  But since the easy solution seems to defeat the purpose of the course, I have more thinking to do about how to determine The Grade when I teach this course again.  And I intend to solicit as much input as I can get from my current students...particularly the unhappy ones.  At this point, I'll take any suggestions I can get.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perspective and meaning

This week, in the course on innovation and creativity, we talked about meaning, which is the sixth of Daniel Pink's essential aptitudes for success and fulfillment.  Viktor Frankl's work was used to introduce the final chapter:
The search for meaning is a drive that exists in all of us--and a combination of external circumstances and internal will can bring it to the surface.
I found myself wondering during our in-class discussion about the role of age on ones perspective about meaning...what it is, what it's worth, and why it matters.

I read Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning when I was about the age my students are now.  I was deeply touched by one man's ability to find meaning in the midst of suffering and loss.  The images I created while reading have stayed with me, in one form or another, informed to some degree by a visit to Dachau when I was an adolescent.  But the lifetime--one full of learning, loss, love, and laughter--between the adolescent I was and the adult I am has imbued the concept of meaning with shades and textures that may only come with living.

About the time I read Frankl's book, I also read The Phantom Tollbooth, a delight of allegory and word play.  One of the many snippets of the book that have inexplicably remained with me is the little boy whose feet don't touch the ground.  He explains that people in his family are born where their head will be in adulthood, and their feet grow down, to avoid the pesky problem of having ones perspective change as one grows.  This is, of course, delightful nonsense...but thought-provoking, delightful nonsense.

Our perspective does, of course, change as we grow, whether measured on a height chart or by some less tangible method.  The places we remember as grand are often small; the skills we struggled to acquire have the ease of habit.  We've grown and our perspective has grown with us.

Daniel Pink and I are age cohorts, which may help to explain my resonance with his assertions that we need to take our spirituality and our happiness seriously.  I wonder if my students recognize that many of their actions are mortgaging the meaningful and fleeting moments in their lives for the possibility of future gains.  I also wonder if I'm walking in the footsteps of my own teachers.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Knot in my thread

Some of the lessons are academic; others are about life.  Some are for the students; others seem to be for me.  Today is a case (or two) in point.

My first summer session will be spent with students who are employed full time, earning an MBA through the executive program, and using the business simulation to apply strategy concepts they've studied this semester.  I will have very bright students with high expectations focusing on the subject matter I fear most.  The fates seem to be having a field day here.

It's not that I don't understand business plans, income statements, balance sheets, or forecasting.  It is, however, that I am most comfortable playing to my strengths.  And I do not consider these to be my strengths. 

We challenge students to take risks, to move beyond their comfort zone, to keep learning on the job and in life. How much easier it is to teach than to do...except for the voice that reminds me about practicing what I espouse.  You can't see the look of grim determination as I write, which is probably a good thing for all concerned.

Both sides of the coin

Perhaps the corollary to taking a risk for the fun and/or the learning is that success is often met with anger and suspicion.  Human nature lives on both sides of the coin.

The team that took the big risk yesterday reaped a big win.  The first email from a student on another team arrived 30 minutes after the simulation results were posted; that email simply requested a meeting about "some simulation questions."  The next email arrived before noon and contained accusations of "unethical practices."  The correspondents are on the same team and they have concerns...about their grade, mostly, and any negative impact as a result of a competing team's success.

The phrase that concerns me the most is this one: "this jump in success is not realistic in a simulation (or the real business environment)."  Oh, but the success is realistic.  A team or a company can take an enormous risk, combining some hard-won knowledge, a bit of courage, and what can only be called luck.  There will be criticism from stockholders, customers, and employees when it goes badly.  There will be accusations from competitors when it goes well.

It will be interesting to see which students analyze this success in order to learn and emulate...and which respond with anger and suspicion.  Student frustration yields another teaching opportunity, just as soon as cooler heads prevail.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A really good story, regardless of the ending

At the beginning of the semester, I wrote about student frustration as a valuable learning opportunity in our business simulation.  Today, one team hit the jackpot.  I watched in utter fascination as four students who have been struggling with their decisions--and, therefore, the performance of their company--stayed beyond the three-hours scheduled for our class...because they wanted to stay.

They were excited about the all-or-nothing plan for the next round.  They assured me that this plan will make them the story I'll remember and tell when I talk about business strategy. They reminded me that I have encouraged them to take risks in order to learn.  They laughed, they talked about how energized and excited they were, and they reminded one another what a great end-of-semester presentation their decision will make, whether or not they are successful.

Hearing the excitement and the laughter...seeing the smiles on the faces of these young men...knowing four students chose an opportunity to learn over an opportunity to play it safe...

They're right.  This is the story I'll tell.

Monday, March 28, 2011

We have come to equate erudite and obscure with competent and intelligent.

It's a note I scribbled on the back of a business card.  I don't remember why or when I wrote it, but the note has stayed next to my computer for several weeks.  I'm not opposed to big words, complicated theories, or the need for scientific-mathematical accuracy, but I'm frustrated by the tendency to confuse obfuscation with knowledge.

Distilling the essence of a thing accurately and precisely requires far more understanding than endless writing or talking about the fine points or meandering through the complications and details, until all hearers, readers, or followers are lost or befuddled.  Einstein's brilliance is represented both by the details behind and the summation of  E=mc².  The details of Einstein's theory may be difficult to grasp and follow, but the distillation hooks us, allows further exploration, and anchors what we do learn.

Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, may be one of the greatest minds of my lifetime.  One of my favorite things about Professor Hawking is his ability--and desire--to explain his insights in language that most adults can grasp.  That, and the fact that he has chosen to author books for children.  Yep, he writes for children.  Stephen Hawking writes children's books.  So did Rudyard Kipling, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and a host of other competent and intelligent men and women.

Perhaps it's not so far-fetched, then, for me to insist that students be able to explain what they know using terms and words that a 12-year-old can understand.  To delve into a subject, wrap ones mind around the nuances, wrestle the subject matter into submission, then master it fully by explaining the subject simply and elegantly is the goal of education.  It's my goal, anyway, and I think there are adequate examples throughout history that greater thinkers than I have used this method of assessing mastery.

Erudition and obscurity are overrated; competence and intelligence are not.  We need the hooks that lead us to explore and the anchors that allow us to retain.  True genius lies in that direction.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Our childhood stories

The majority of the 35 graduate students who were asked to write about a children's book--a book which might hold lessons for their professional life--chose to write about their favorite book from childhood.  I'm not sure why that surprised me, but it did.  And I was equally surprised by how many of their selections are on my own list of favorite books:
  • Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol
  • The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
  • If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss
  • Curious George by Margret and H.A. Rey
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • You're You, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Shultz 
  • The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter
  • The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • The Missing Piece and the Big O by Shel Silverstain
What touched me were the personal stories woven into the beloved books from childhood.  Books read by mom or dad...the first book they remember reading alone...the book that helped make sense of the world.  One student told me about going home over the previous weekend and asking her mother about Plateo.  Mom had forgotten about the book and, once reminded, didn't know where it was.  But the student searched, found the book, wrote her assignment, and brought the book to class. 

One doesn't expect a graduate student in accounting to bring a children's book to share with her teacher.  And I didn't expect to see her eyes light up when she talked about Plateo (Guy Gilchrist's Plateo's Big Race: A Tiny Dinos Story About Learning), her memories of the book and the character, the scribbling (her own) she'd found in the book, the message she remembered, or how happy she was to have reclaimed this piece of her childhood.  She brought the book to class so that I could see it, touch it, and read it. She brought a reclaimed piece of herself to class and it was the best moment of my day.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stay tuned for Dr. Seuss

The assignment for Wednesday is to read a children's book and write about the lessons to be learned for your profession or career.  As an example, I offered what I wrote about Amelia Bedelia when my daughter was in elementary school:

Like many of you, I wear two hats.  By day, I work for Accenture’s resources operating group out of the Houston office; the rest of the time, I’m the mother of seven-year-old Emily. Being a bibliophile for most of my life, I originally had some concerns that my brain would atrophy as the books I opened most often had more pictures than words. But I assure you, I was wrong. The expanded diversity in my reading matter has had unexpected benefits.  Stepping away from all the serious stuff provides a slightly different perspective on my world, both personally and professionally (you just can’t read about the stubbornness of north-bound and south-bound Zaxes without doing some serious self-examination). In fact, in most of the best children’s literature, I’ve discovered an untapped network of experts on topics of vital interest to consultants, mommies, and people in general.

Take Amelia Bedelia, for example (who, by the way, never goes by just “Amelia”). She’s been one of my daughter’s favorite characters for about a year now. If you ask her why she likes Amelia Bedelia, Emily will answer, “Because she makes me laugh and, after a while, I can tell what she’s going to do…(pause)…and because there are no bad guys.” I can understand that completely. When I think about it for a minute, that’s a pretty good description of the best work and/or teams I’ve experienced: I enjoyed them, I acquired a sense of mastery, and there weren’t any bad guys.

At the beginning of her first book, Amelia Bedelia has just been hired by Mr. and Mrs. Rogers to provide housekeeping services. In a brief suspension of reality (ever notice how good children are at that? and how bad adults are??), the Rogers leave Amelia Bedelia in their home on her first day of work with a list of duties to be performed and instructions to “do just what the list says.”  Some of the items on the list:

  1. Change the towels in the green bathroom
  2. Dust the furniture
  3. Draw the drapes when the sun comes in
  4. Measure two cups of rice
Though she doesn’t understand why she’s being asked to do things that make no sense to her, Amelia Bedelia fulfills every request. Using scissors, she cuts artistic designs into the towels, then hopes she’s changed them enough. She locates the “dusting powder” in the bathroom and thoroughly dusts the furniture, admitting that it does smell nice. When the sun comes through the drapes, she sits right down and draws a lovely picture of those drapes. She finds two cups, fills them with rice, carefully measures (“4 ½ inches”), and then pours the rice back into the container. With good humor, she acknowledges that “these folks sure want me to do funny things” and continues with her list.

Oh, and while accomplishing everything on her list, Amelia Bedelia takes the initiative to throw together “a little of this and a pinch of that” to create the best lemon meringue pie Mr. and Mrs. Rogers have ever tasted. Good thing, too, because that pie is the only thing that keeps Amelia Bedelia employed. Being able to eat pie that terrific is worth a little adjustment in communication style (“undust the furniture” and “close the drapes”).

As I read (and read and read and read…you get the picture) this book, I began to see some messages for me in my role as a consultant:

  • A little suspension of reality may be required to finish the story… or to reach a positive outcome. Try to suspend judgment that it won’t/can’t work; maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • Good communication is more of an art than a science. Hang around enough to be sure the message you think you are sending is the one being received.
  • It’s not always easy working with creative or innovative people…but there’s generally a really good reason to do so.
  • Nurturing creativity (I’d settle for just not killing it) requires some adjustments all the way around. If we “adjust” the creative folks into alignment with the rest of us, we’ve just destroyed the very thing that makes them so valuable.
  • Most of us take ourselves—and our deliverables—just a wee bit too seriously. Mistakes in our industry are generally not life threatening…unless we’re the ones making the threats. We learn from our mistakes because they are inherently painful, not necessarily because someone else beats us up.
  • Sometimes it’s the little, unasked-for things we do for clients—the ones they haven’t expected, but end up valuing—that cement our relationship with them.

The big message: If we are truly open to learning, we can find knowledge in the most unlikely places.

Many years removed, in a different place and time, I'm curious what the students will submit.  Stay tuned. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Defining moments

"And the next time I teach this course, I'd like to..." was the phrase that clinched it for me.  I realized when I heard myself speaking those words that I want a next time...I want to teach this class again...this is where I want to be.  It took both that defining moment and every bit of resolve I have to turn down the non-teaching role I was offered last week.  To look a person I admire in the eye and say that I'd rather be in the classroom than in the role being offered.

Conventional wisdom says that we advance in our chosen professions, that we take the next step up the ladder, that we move, ultimately, into management.  I've taken those steps before--sometimes choosing wisely; other times not--and I am honored (and not a little surprised) to be given another opportunity.  But if I have a calling, it is to lead within the classroom, rather than without.  It's not a perfect job and there are days when I question not only why I do it, but also whether I am remotely competent.  The answers to both why and whether are seeing a student have his "aha" moment or hearing a student say she's thought about something in a completely new light.  And one of the greatest joys is reading what students are capable of writing, especially when they given room to find a voice--their own.The one they lost in some academic desert.

It was hard for me to hear that my "no" was a disappointment to that person I admire.  It would have been far harder for me to walk away from the classroom.  And the next time I teach this course, I'd like to remember this moment. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In conclusion...

It's the right title, the one I decided to use to conclude these ramblings about my teaching and my learning, both major facets of my life.  Keeping up with the writing became a self-imposed source of guilt about the (in)frequency, the quality, the value, the meaning...and, ultimately, about the time.  Not having the time, not making the time...and it being the right time to move on.

And then a comment from a reader.  Can't bail on the day you receive a comment from a reader whose dialog has helped shape my own...I'll give it another day or so before I conclude.  And then another comment from a reader, one who generally limits the challenges to the non-virtual world.  Well, this is awkward.  But I've waited this long for a semi-graceful exit and another day or so won't matter.  And then it happened.

I came into the office this morning and Google Reader offered these timely insights:

In conclusion, I've been busted.  I have all the time in the world to write.  I just forgot why I was doing it.  I forgot that it nurtures my soul, that I express many things far better in writing than in speaking, that it connects me to my own the people who taught me to love reading, taught me to love writing, encouraged me to find my voice, believed in me as a teacher, a parent, and a person.

This semester has its share of challenges, from an unprecedented number of canceled class periods (on the bright side, we've set snow and temperature records), the new and newly-revised courses, the juggling of multiple responsibilities (the fact that I asked for them doesn't lessen the challenge), and the messiness of living a life.  And I started to wonder if this was the semester when I couldn't do it all...if I would fail.  And, suddenly, it seemed a propitious time to stop writing.  One does not need a degree in psychology here.

And the laundry.  In the innovation and creativity course, we've talked a lot about the rich sources of new (and profitable) business ideas in developing countries.  We've read and talked about Japan, China, and India.  I've been reading student papers about the challenges they expect in working for multinational companies, as many of the students have limited exposure to other cultures.  One of the blogs I read offered me the same-but-different description and photographs--breathtakingly beautiful photographs, by the way--of laundry day in India.  And I realized that immersing ourselves in the ways in which we are similar to and different from others is part of keeping ourselves whole, part of learning, part of seeing our world differently...part of creativity.

We'll be talking about laundry in class today, an area in which I can comfortably claim a certain expertise.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Student frustration is too valuable to waste.

With this quote from the instructor manual for the business simulation used in undergraduate strategy, we are off and running. The instructor is also frustrated at this point...and my own frustration is too valuable to waste.

The premise behind the frustration-learning link is that frustration leads to problem solving and, eventually, to learning.  The learning is intended to be the fun part.  The solution, even if imperfect...the sense of accomplishment, even if wrong...the learning, even if painful.  I get it; I believe it; I don't have to like it.

When the University makes changes to the curriculum, the faculty (which, in this very particular case, would be me) is required to adjust.  As a proponent of change and flexibility, I am--at least in a theoretical sense--in favor of progress and the changes required.  As a flawed human being with my own sense of frustration, I am having a challenging beginning to the semester.  And I am reminded (again) how it feels to struggle with ambiguity.  Our Blackboard system is new, slow, and flawed.  Our class sizes have increased, with no increase in the size of the classroom, the support provided, or the length of the time required for mastery (by the students...and, if we are being honest, by the instructor).
So, after worrying about my own ability to learn the details of this simulation and make it work, I have decided that I can do this, I can teach my students to do this, and we will get through this semester together.  This particular frustration may or may not be valuable, but it certainly is motivating.  Welcome back.