I’ve been told I was born to endure this kind of weather

I do want to go through some of the actual assignments for Unit 2, but this writeup is just about noticing things and taking photos of them. It’s also about learning what the little buttons on the Flickr app do.

Frost on the inside of the library door

It got real cold in Ohio again. That’s frost on the inside of the Olin Library door.  (Also, we may have some humidity issues.) I was struck by the way the screws stand out in this closeup.

"Love is dumb" - winter in Ohio, written in the frost on the inside of the Olin Library door.

Two days later. The anterooms going into the library are frequent spots for student cell phone conversations. I suppose there’s an illusion of privacy in a room other people are supposed to walk through without stopping. Sometimes those conversations get emotional, and I imagine that’s what happened this time. You might need to look at the photo full-size, but scrawled in the frosting condensate are the words “love is dumb”.

Getting those angsty letters to stand out was a neat trick of post-production. None of the Flickr app filters helped at all, but increasing saturation, contrast, and decreasing exposure helped bring up the color in the background, reduce the light in the foreground, and help the finger-writing appear.

More condensation

Same day, different door. Increased the saturation to get the orange lights at the Church of the Holy Spirit to pop a little.

Same shot as "more condensation", with image sharpening maxed out.

Same exact shot, in fact, but instead of messing with color, I maxed out “sharpening”. The condensate turns pebbly, almost like a rained-on window in a movie.

So I haven’t made much progress on taking better photos in the first place, but I have started to learn about the things I can do to help existing photos tell different stories. I even graduated past flipping through the presets. I’d love your comments and suggestions.

Hamster Dance

Cross-posted from my Storytelling blog, because I thought this was about making art and it turns out to be also about instructional technology. Kind of.

Man, I’ve got to figure out “write once, publish everywhere”.



I bought myself an Intuos tablet some time ago at work, on the grounds that I would use it for Big Serious Stuff like annotating screenshots or making screencapture videos. In theory, drawing with a mouse is hard and a pen interface should be easier. In practice, a tablet input is neither like a mouse or a pen (or a touchscreen) and it can be frustrating to get started.

And there it sat, gathering dust, taunting me to read the manual, pick software, practice, prove myself worthy.

Now might be a good time to point out that I describe my drawing talents as “maxed out at stick men.” So when it said I wasn’t worthy, I assumed it was right.

I brought it home a while back, thinking big thoughts about how I’d use it to think about the shape of stories, especially as they relate to the stories we tell when we do technology trainings. Sitting on the dining room table, it caught my son’s eye.

“Daddy, what’s that?”

“Oh, it’s for drawing on the computer.”

“Can I try?”

“I guess so… but I have to plug it in and find the software and all that.”

“OK. Well, can we do that?”

“Um… yeah. Yeah OK. Let me see.”

It’s hard to enter the Kingdom of Technology like a little child, after I’ve debugged and disinfected and documented professionally for so long. It’s a challenge to ask “why not?” But I got the drivers installed, and after dorking around looking for the “right” software, I figured out that Microsoft Paint would work as well as anything for letting my kid play.

And it wasn’t simple, his learning to match up the pen to the screen. After a bit, he got it and started exploring Paint. An arrow became a house. Green squiggles became grass. A line was the horizon; the fill tool gave him purple grass and a yellow sky.

And he said it was my turn.

Bunny and Rhino (the Hamster)

How about a bunny? I think I can draw a bunny. (It’s like a dog with no neck and bunny ears, right?) Hey, maybe the spraypaint brush will make the fur look more furry. A bunny should be on grass. OK, painting that grass was kind of annoying, what if we do the sky with a fill tool?

Draw your stuffed hamster? Sure, why not. I can draw Hamster.

Oh, the hamster’s name is Rhino? Of course it is. I’ll draw Rhino.

Objectively, I know it’s … primitive. But the fact is, I made it, and making it was fun. And I pretty much killed the excuse that learning how to use the tablet would be too hard.

I’ve tried to get multiple faculty members to try out these tablets, and few of them are willing to put in the work. I wonder if the problem is that I haven’t asked them to just draw a happy little tree.

It’s always show time here at the edge of the stage

Spotlight Beam

Most of my experiments with web publication have been experiments with form. My late-and-unlamented blog on Blogger, my Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ presences, even my DS106 blog (which needs a daily create before it starts pining for the fjords) – all primarily attempts to understand tools through their constraints.

So the act of planning the categories for this blog creates a level of intentionality which is unfamiliar and challenging. I think that’s part of the idea of a portfolio, though. Defining a structure makes it real – establishes that there are parts of my professional presence I want to focus on. For that matter, a reflective practice offers the opportunity to notice the structure as it emerges here, in what I share and what I keep to myself.

Sidebar: I’m not understanding implications of the distinction in WordPress between “tags” and “categories”. Near as I can tell, “categories” are big and hierarchical while “tags” are small and flat, and they’re different so that you can have a tag widget and a category widget without either one being “too long”. Am I missing something?

Still, I’m struggling with what to call the categories. So let’s go back a step – who’s the audience for this site anyway? Maybe if I think about who I’m writing for, I’ll think about what the right categories are.

When I say that this blog is a reflection space, and that I’m trying to push myself to explore different ways of reflecting, I’m saying in effect that the primary audience is myself. What would the descriptors be which aid self-reflection? There might be a “reflection” category, which would then allow for subcategories depending on whether I’m reflecting on news, technology, higher ed in general, work experiences in particular…

An “experiment” space would also be a good idea – someplace where I could narrate the things I try out. I suspect part of the value of that category would be writing down the fact that there ought to be something in it.

And then who am I talking to? I might want categories for groups or projects like You Show and Connected Courses – or ongoing groups like CLAMP and EDU-ISIS. Maybe one for “professional organizations” in general?

I’m not tenured faculty, so my work resists the easy breakdown of “research” and “teaching.” There is a split focus between “pedagogy” writ large and “instructional technology issues”, so that might be a pair of categories. (There’s also the tension that there’s a website for my work which needs feeding with similar-but-not-the-same content… though I suppose there’s nothing wrong with a repost, or a link with a paragraph for context.)

I suppose this exercise has accomplished its task – now I’m thinking about the things I could be writing, and how they might best be made visible.

And more importantly, once I hit publish, I’ll give myself permission to go on to the next thing.

Top image “Spotlight Beam” by flickr user Starving Artist, licensed cc-by-nc; https://flic.kr/p/5SZ83S

Every one of them words rang true

We had an exciting visit to Kenyon by David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen, authors of Writing Analytically. (Dave and Jill are absolutely charming and wonderful workshop facilitators; if you’re having a campus conversation about writing you should look them up.)

NotebookOne of their techniques is to have students keep a commonplace book. As a classroom assignment, the students are directed to find a certain number of quotes in the reading to copy into their commonplace book. These might be the most meaningful sentences; they might be the most beautiful; they might be the particular sentences which most grabbed the student’s attention or expanded their thinking. In their technique, the students are also asked to free-write a paragraph or so on why this sentence is not like every other sentence. A class meeting, then, might start by asking a volunteer to read something from their commonplace book – and then another volunteer to respond to that quote – and so on, until the class has revisited a set of seminal sentences from the work… leading into class discussion or another free-writing exercise.

This resonated with me, because I’ve made a couple of stabs at keeping a commonplace book. My most formal attempt was in college, probably inspired by sections of Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. I wanted to be able to quote better, and writing out interesting passages longhand seemed like a good way to practice. I also realize now that it was about practicing close reading – investing my reading with better attention to detail, both to the argument but especially to the sentence-level beauty.

Looking back and forward, I see other attempts. Growing up, my “commonplace book” was actually a Mickey Mouse poster which hung over my desk in my room. I’d never bothered to take it down, but I didn’t really care about it. (This probably started when I was 12 or 14, and way too old for Mickey Mouse, Mooooooommmmm!) And so, when I heard interesting songs on the radio, or good lines from those songs (or TV shows or books), I’d write them on the lower third of that poster.

Of late, I’ve been keeping a list of quotes in my GoodReads account. This is interesting, because it’s performative – my quotes are public, and (on the book and author pages) they’re displayed in the context of other people’s quotes. I can “like” the other quotes already in the database. I’m even asked to rank my favorites and tag them. I like feeling like my quotes are part of a larger project – and yet that reinforces that it’s not mine.

Joe’s quotes


“There are some upon this earth of yours who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name; who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”— Charles Dickens

And so this is as far as I’ve gotten on the portfolio structure task. One of the things I’d like to do here is to share my work commonplace book. I think it would be fun (and useful) to expose my professional reading, share particularly well-crafted passages, and reflect on then. I might even get around to playing with typesetting… or even making inspirational posters.

If I abandon this project I would be a man without a dream and I don't want to live like that.
-Werner Herzog, from http://herzoginspirationals.tumblr.com/

Everybody eats when they come to my house

I love to be in the kitchen. The kitchen is my playhouse. It’s a place where I can focus, where learning and doing emulsify, where this singular moment connects to long tradition. I expect I could find the path from the stove to the fridge to the sink with my eyes closed.

OW! Well, I can if the cat’s not in the way.

So it was easy to drop what I was doing and answer the question “where’s the you in your kitchen?”  I had a quick look around – knives on a magnetic strip on the wall, utensils on hooks, fridge, cluttered counters, the sink…

the Lodge cast iron skillet. The stove is my place in the kitchen, and what I want on that stove is either that heavy black pot frying chicken, or the large brewing kettle full of wort.

Brew kettle, chicken frying pan. My place, in my kitchen.

Yes, the cabinets really are that cattywampus. It’s an old house.

This was a pretty quick shoot – though I did have to get the stock pot down and declutter the counter a bit. No flash, though it took one overexposed shot to learn that.  I’ve loved playing with the presets in the Flickr app, but this shot didn’t need them.

I’m a relative latecomer to the smartphone world, and I’m still getting used to this idea that I am always carrying a camera. I tried to become a shutterbug for a while in my early teens, but it never really took. If playing with the You Show and DS106 only made me better at taking photos (and more conscious/confident of the option to take photos), that would be a big step in the right direction.

Five Golden Toques

I was watching YouShow Episode Zero this morning, and about 3 minutes in, my wife called out “What is that, Bob and Doug McKenzie teach the web?”

Bob and Doug and Brian and Alan
I’m not sayin’… I’m just sayin’.

Hmm… getting Photoshopped by their students is exactly the kind of thing my faculty are afraid of. I might be doing this wrong. Good thing it’s not graded.

I could probably riff on the parallel between the plucky DIY attitude of SCTV’s fictional TV station and the open web concepts of the Reclaim movement, but that’s a lot of intellectual weight to hang on a cheap joke.

I’m joining up with the You Show because I would like to have a more reflective practice in my job, and I’d like to do that publicly. I’ve come to realize that I envy my colleagues who have more explicit agendas for research and speaking and engagement with their professional communities. My practice has been very reactive – what’s happening, what’s interesting, how can I help. It’s got me this far and I have no (OK, few) complaints, but I think valuing my own process enough to narrate it might be the first step in developing an agenda of my own.

mortadella sandwich
Mortadella sandwich picture by Flickr user jeffreyw

I often quip that my job is to buy faculty members lunch and get them talking. So when I think about a visual metaphor for my own interests, a sandwich is what comes to mind. I combine different ingredients, sometimes asking them to blend, sometimes hoping they will retain their essential flavor or texture while affecting and being affected by the others. I create an environment where (I hope) people can relax, reflect, and open up… literally with a sandwich or a beer, figuratively in the way I try to approach the tasks at hand.

He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind

Some weeks ago, at office hours, I mentioned that I might be able to keep up with the Hangouts better if they were available in a downloadable audio format. That would allow me to load up my phone and listen to them on long drives.

Howard and Company said that was a great idea, and this being a web course, they deputized me to do it.

Well, I’ve got a nice long drive ahead of me today, so I finally did it. I’ve got a Google Drive folder which includes an MP3 for each Hangout and it’s shared with the world. Perhaps it’ll be useful to you during commutes or exercise or whenever you might enjoy podcasts or audiobooks.

If there’s a better way to store these, or if you have an idea why they came out 25-50 MB larger than I’d expected, let me know.

Why I “Teach”

It’s challenging to address #whyIteach as an instructional technologist (and apostate librarian). I feel like I have to justify “what I teach” and “how I teach” before I even can approach the question of why.

Mostly, in my roles, I teach faculty members. (Sometimes they ask me to teach their students, but that’s been uncommon for a long while.)  This provides a remarkable clarity of context. My learners have brought their own goals to our interaction, more explicitly than the average student in school has. They are looking to make their teaching “better” – where better is a nebulous concept including both “more like my peers” and “in my own style”, where I might be involved in interpreting the main goals of the class or in streamlining a process so the faculty member can catch a few more minutes of sleep after grading.

Inverse Hierarchy of Instructional Technology Needs

Image by Krista Moroder, originally found through http://www.teachthought.com/technology/think-pedagogy-first-technology-second/

I’ve taught a lot of workshops, but most of my instruction is one-on-one. Working directly with the faculty member helps me explore her goals, which helps me find the right solution and teach more clearly the parts of it which she needs to understand. We can change quickly if his needs don’t match my plans, and it’s a little safer for us both to be vulnerable in the limits of our knowledge away from our colleagues’ observations.

This, in the end, is what I love about my job. I get to help other people pursue their passions. I get to help them reach their goals, whether lofty or light. And I know that in so doing, I’ve contributed indirectly to the core mission of the college.

How I got here

My work/education self-portrait, told in book titles.

I took this picture as part of TDC 986. It’s not precisely #whyIteach but it is a quick professional biography. It was web coding in the early ’90s which drew me into library science, and library science which led to instructional technology, and instructional technology which led to instructional design, all the while in a context of the liberal arts.

If you’re still thinking about ways to make your “why”, a book spine essay might be an interesting way to go.

The greatest of these

The greatest intellectual challenge I’ve been facing in the last year is how to do my job with more love. This is most explicitly the influence of Louis Schmier, but I think there’s a lot in the Open Courses/co-learning community which addresses genuine connection and shared growth without using the word “love”.

Instructional technology doesn’t actually require a lot of love. You can do good service without it. I’m beginning to doubt, though, that you can do great service without it.

Once you get past the “which button do I click” level of training, the questions have very high stakes. What do you want?  What would be good for you? What could elevate or change your thinking? What do you want for your students? What do they want for themselves? What do we value, and why? In change, what do we fear, and why?

How can we enter this project as individuals and leave it as some kind of community?

You can answer these questions effectively, and efficiently, without love. It can just be business. I’m just not convinced it’s the best I can do.