Comment Compilation

Sometimes I catch myself writing ever more varied and elaborate comments on other people’s blogs and realize it’s probably time for a post of my own. Here are some bits of wisdom stupidity chunky chowder opinion I’ve recently spilled hither and yon over the blogosphere.

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Gel pens are a great disappointment of my stationery world. I love them dearly, and in theory they should be all I ever wanted in a pen, but ultimately I find them all (tried so, so many brands) short-lived and unreliable for the type of writing/drawing I do. I think it’s my fault (hard grip and lots of pressure when I write), so I am left with unattractive but sturdy writing implements. Incidentally, unattractive but sturdy would also be how I would describe myself lolsob.

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My uni has temporarily gone online (after a spike in cases). It is going well for me as I do everything on the board, so I just do it on my iPad over the videoconferencing platform (shared whiteboard) which is integrated with our online learning system, as opposed to in person. And, with online teaching, I don’t have to worry about makeup and hair! But I think the students get really stressed over being yanked between person and online with minimal notice.

I do record my lectures (it’s voice and shared white board). On the upside, I sound pretty kickass, way more kickass than I feel when I lecture, and I emphasize things well and explain concepts clearly. The downside is that I have more accent than I think I do, especially at the beginning of the class; it kind of fades as I relax into it, but it really bums me out. I hate that I don’t hear it otherwise. It’s not thick or anything, and no student has ever complained about it in my 16 years of teaching, but still.

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I started teaching in person, then went online (required by the administration) as the number of cases spiked, and will be going back in person next week. While we were online, I basically taught live using an iPad + stylus and sharing my electronic white board with the students. I talked and drew and wrote (it was easy to quickly change colors for emphasis) and the students would ask questions via messaging or would (rarely) turn on their microphones and ask verbally. I feel the online version went well (live lectures, more color than I have markers for in f2f teaching, plus I could record lectures as I went — no plans on posting them anywhere, just for current students if they miss a class); however, now that the cases are dropping and we’ve been cleared for f2f, everyone wants to go back to the classroom. Students are much more engaged when we’re in person, more likely to ask questions, and actually thinking on the spot.

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I’m in a similar boat. I absolutely refuse to use the spyware on my students. Instead, I will try to recreate to the extent I can the experience of proctoring in class. I will have them join me on a conference call with video and I will be there to answer questions. That’s enough. It’s different when I am looking at them with my eyeballs versus their multiple devices being overtaken by third-party software. I assume most students don’t want to cheat. Heck, my 4th grader already knows what cheating is (deliberately going against the rules of the class) and that it is not something to be done.

As for memorization, I don’t require it, but I emphasize that they need to practice, and through practice they will remember key formulas. To that end, I assign a ton of mandatory homework. Also, things are faster and easier if they do remember some things. For example, everyone [edit: everyone in my STEM classes, not everyone in every walk of life] knows cos 0 or sin(pi/2), right? You shouldn’t have to look up every single detail; that would be like having to look up the spelling of common words like apple or pants. So I emphasize that, while they can have open book and notes, that doesn’t mean that the first time they turn on their brain regarding the material is on the test (“studying during the test”) because there is definitely not enough time for that.

Most kids aren’t there to cheat. Those who are have bigger problems than passing my class.

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I have long ago stopped initiating these little interludes [impromptu chats with colleagues or going to coffee/lunch] because everyone is always so busy, I feel like I’m the only one with the time/will to gossip in the hallway or wanting to go grab lunch/coffee. Sure, everybody is friendly, but I always feel like I’m imposing with my chatter and the other party can’t wait to get away from me and get on the next thing they’ve got planned. When we do get together for lunch (scheduled weeks in advance), the time is highly constrained (obligations before and after), so it doesn’t feel like a respite but rather like yet another thing everyone checks off their to-do list.

Btw, you mention a huge box of candy. None of my colleagues are interested in candy, it’s really disheartening. Everyone is watching their figure/health, and these days I feel ashamed to even have candy on hand, let alone be seen enjoying it.

Honestly, interacting with writers on Twitter since I started writing fiction has been a godsend for my mental health. My friendly health-conscious vice-free unreachable colleagues have made my soul shrivel a little. Kind of like here. Not as dramatic, but in a similar vein: http://theprofessorisin.com/2012/07/03/death-of-a-soul-on-campus/
In any case, having emotionally divested from the people at work brought me peace. No expectations, no disappointment.

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I used to think I’d never retire. Now, not so much. I enjoy teaching and working with graduate students, but after 100+ papers, all the battles with referees are just a drag and don’t seem worth it, and don’t even get me started on getting grants. I plan to retire as soon as I can. I am serious about writing fiction, have written and published plenty of short works and poetry since I started in 2017, and plan on tackling novels and screenplays. And it would be nice to finally have the time to learn another language, maybe an instrument or two, and really master a digital-art platform. But I still have 20 years till retirement, so who knows? By then, I might be sick of my current hobbies, and on to something else.

8 comments

  1. This is me, “I have long ago stopped initiating these little interludes [impromptu chats with colleagues or going to coffee/lunch] because everyone is always so busy, I feel like I’m the only one with the time/will to gossip in the hallway or wanting to go grab lunch/coffee. Sure, everybody is friendly, but I always feel like I’m imposing with my chatter and the other party can’t wait to get away from me and get on the next thing they’ve got planned. When we do get together for lunch (scheduled weeks in advance), the time is highly constrained (obligations before and after), so it doesn’t feel like a respite but rather like yet another thing everyone checks off their to-do list.”

    I’m also the only person who is single and lives alone – so the isolation is so hard, and I miss just having nice conversations with colleagues. My K mentor recently asked me to start sending her agendas for our mentoring meetings in advance and said that if I just wanted to chat, we should cancel our meeting and meet after hours. I feel like I always have things to discuss with her, but also really just want to talk and hear how she is and what is going on in our school (since I am so isolated). I’m thinking of starting a support group for isolated academics bc I just need people to talk to.

  2. This is why I am glad that I work where I do. Not only do I have people to talk to in my department, but I have friends in other departments. Being in a small university, no one is really siloed the way I was when I was at bigger universities. I enjoy that people are whole human beings here rather than just their job. It does get hard during summer because people scatter, though.

    Sometimes I think about going back to a research university, but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be happy there.

  3. “But I still have 20 years till retirement, so who knows? By then, I might be sick of my current hobbies, and on to something else.” That is certainly a reasonable concern—I’m retiring in a year, and none of the hobbies I had 20 years ago appeal much to me right now, though I’ve been telling myself that I’ll get back to them when I retire for the past 20 years. My house is still cluttered with looms and yarn from the weaving I used to do, but I’ve not set up a warp for about 20 years …

  4. I would eat your candy. I love candy!

    Sometimes people are just feeling really busy and if they stop to talk, they feel like they won’t be able to fit in everything. Not discounting your feelings of rejection. I can also be very chatty and I would love to have deeper relationships with my work colleagues, but it sometimes feels like I’m skirting the edge of making people uncomfortable with what I’m talking about. I don’t know if it’s because what I find interesting is different than what they do.

    Oh! Yeah I have no idea what cos 0 is (1?), but I do agree that part of learning a subject is developing a level of fluency with some of the basics. For me it’s knowing things like the difficult airway algorithm or the dose of neostigmine in mg:kg.

  5. Speaking as an American with a boring Connecticut newscaster accent, I love listening to people with accents…totally +++ on the intrigue and attractiveness scales 😉

  6. Location matters. The pace is faster in northeast and midwest. Do a sabbatical in south or sothwest and you will be surprised by occasional 2-hr lunch + coffee with relaxed colleagues. Perhaps you should move. Staying in one place for too long, especially without a social department life, is not good.

  7. Is it wrong that I want to know how you use a whiteboard with ipad–what app, I mean? I’ve been trying and failing to figure it out.

    Your experience with writers on twitter is a lot like what I’m feeling about lit scholars on there. It’s like hearing hallway conversations and joining in occasionally.

  8. Hi Undine, you should use a videoconferencing platform (and the associated app) that offers whiteboard sharing. For classes, my uni uses Blackboard Collaborate Ultra which is integrated with out course delivery system Canvas. I have a Canvas app on the iPad and through it I access the BBC and its whiteboard, but I presume you could get a standalone BBC app. I like the BBC whiteboard more than in other videoconferencing platforms. I also tried the whiteboard in Zoom, and it’s fine, but there are multiple taps (as opposed to just two in BBC) when you’re changing pen color and whatnot, and I change colors a lot. But in Zoom you can erase parts of what you’ve recently written as opposed to the whole damn page, as what happened to me a few times in BBC. I haven’t tried the other platforms for this feature as I didn’t have the need, but I think Skype might have whiteboard sharing and it might be an extra feature (for pay) in Google Meets/G-Suite. Dunno if Microsoft Teams or Webex have it because I don’t use these often, but they probably do. Hope this helps! (Feel free to email if you’d like to troubleshoot.)

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