Friday, September 28, 2012

Craning my neck

The view from my office window changed dramatically last week and I am fascinated.  Each morning, as I walk up the hill to my building, I watch the slow and elegant movement of the construction cane that towers above both the dormitory across the street and the office building nearby.

My fascination with cranes started years ago, when I lived in Houston and the local newspaper interviewed one of the few female crane operators. Her description of her day, climbing the steps each morning to spend an 8-hour day high above the rest of the world, transformed a piece of machinery into a place where someone works, laughs, and has coffee breaks (on a small table outside the cab...which still leaves me with a 'how in the world...?!?' wonder).

This particular crane is the first one with which I've had more than a passing relationship, as this one is up close and personal for the foreseeable future.  I've already read how cranes are transported and erected, the costs (shipping, leasing, and renting) associated with their use, the maximum load, and the names for various components.

And I wonder...when is it we lose the innate curiosity and awe about the world around us?  And how much of that loss is attributable to the way we teach?

In the meantime, I put "bring binoculars to work" on my list of things to do.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seeing with technology

Some months ago, I read and bookmarked this analysis of the American electric grid and the massive blackout (grid failure) in North American in 2003.  In addition to the educational value of the analysis (which suggests our grid actually is in a bit of trouble), I was intrigued with the assessment of the 2003 blackout and the summation that people monitoring the grid "simply didn't have the technology to see the big picture."

I spend a lot of time researching, using, and experimenting (okay, playing) with technology that helps me live or work more productively.  And I'm surrounded by students and peers who are, to put it kindly, technology geeks.  But, despite the critical role that technology can play, it's not always technology we need to see beyond what's right in front of us. Sometimes what we need is experience, common sense, intuition, or a willingness to collaborate with others who have pieces of the puzzle that we don't have.

This week, during the ongoing construction near my office, the cable that provides electricity to my building was cut.  With no electricity, the technology that would, one thinks, save the day was the wireless network.  With the wireless network, we could all...well, work.  But since the anticipated electric surge (when the power would be restored) was deemed a potential threat to the wireless LAN, the wireless service was disabled during the power outage.  Thus, with all the technology available to me, cutting the cable that provides electricity still left us all in the dark.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Student frustration...revisited each semester

"You're frustrated in my class," I say.  The student agrees emphatically, telling me that he is not learning, not being given substance, not being given deadlines, not being given lectures from which he can learn.  And we have arrived at the point where learning may actually begin.

I ask him if he's read the syllabus...and he tells me that he has not.  I ask if he has started on the assignments due in the course...and he has not.   He tells me that he is seeking substance and does not believe I am giving him any, since the class is mostly "free time" during which he feels compelled to be working on assignments for other classes.

He does have a point about the lack of structure during the class period, as there is very little.  But the lack of structure is by design and I am learning a great deal about my students by watching (in a leadership class, by the way) how they approach unstructured opportunities to learn and to lead.

And I have, indeed, given the students a great deal of substance, if one considers the textbook, articles from MIT on leadership, and bookmarks to the material I research and read on a near-daily basis to be substantive.  All of this material--the substantive material this student has been seeking--is...guess where?  It's all hyper linked on the syllabus. The syllabus I reviewed and explained on the first day of class.  The same syllabus I've referenced several times since the first day of class.

So, now the time is ripe to tell the student that my issue with lecturing is that students don't listen until a need has been created.  For the most part, we filter out information that we do not perceive as useful.  But the student and I have now discovered a need for information, information that has been available (but ignored) since the beginning of the semester.

It really was a good discussion, once he believed that my goal is his learning.

Student frustration is (still) too valuable to waste.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Okay, so I've added one more way to feel completely inept by creating a Twitter account.  I might be giddy if I weren't so befuddled.

It's amazing how such a small blue bird can be so intimidating.  But it's time to spread my wings and fly...if someone will please shove me out of the nest.

And, while, flying, I mean...I can take comfort in Seth Godin's assurance that "curiosity was framed."