Survey says… / Sabbatical Lite midterms of sort

I think I’m going to take the weekend off from BAWS/sabbatical/school work (other than getting caught up on my email, which will give me a chance to email some friends of mine anyway) and concentrate on stuff around the house– family things, cleaning, putting up Halloween decos, carving pumpkins, etc. After this last week, I feel like I earned it.

I finally managed to get my Blogs as Writerly Spaces surveys and human subject review paperwork submitted. I say “surveys,” but really it’s one survey (which I am going to invite folks to participate in more or less randomly and via email) and one set of case study questions (and I’m going to try to find case study subjects by the survey and also by trying to just invite some folks whose blogs I like to read). I’m happy to share my questions with anyone who is curious, and a big shout-out to friends and colleagues Dennis Danvers, Bill Hart-Davidson, Steve Benninghoff, and Linda Adler-Kassner for the advice and help they passed along. And also a big help to Joe Scazzero in the EMU faculty development center, which is one tip I would pass along to anyone putting together a serious survey: get someone to look at it who a) is an expert at survey construction and b) knows almost nothing about the topic of the survey.

As anyone who has ever put together a real survey knows, surveys is hard. They seem like they’d be easy– what first year composition teacher hasn’t had a student whose solution to a research pickle was to come up with a survey on the fly? But easy they ain’t. I puzzled over mine for the better part of the last month, and I feel like that was actually pretty quick. One of my colleagues told me a story about a survey she did with some folks way back when with a bunch of others, and took them about a year to come up with questions they were happy with.

Anyway, I’m pleased with that, and I’m also pleased that I am done with the Human Subjects Review stuff (what every other school seems to call “IRB”)– or at least I’m “done” as long as they exempt my project, which I expect they will. Not a lot of blood being drawn, not a lot of electrical shock, etc. Once that is all put to bed, I’ll load stuff up on surveymonkey and keep my fingers crossed that folks will actually participate.

And how is “sabbatical lite” treating me? Well, it comes and goes. I’ve had some weeks this semester in which it has worked out quite well, but last week was not one of them. I had to be on campus for something every day last week, and the “never before 1 pm” rule is starting to look less than workable. So in the sense that a sabbatical is supposed to be about “getting away,” sabbatical lite ain’t working.

On the other hand, not teaching (and thus not grading/commenting on a bunch of student writing) does give me a lot more time to do things like write surveys, read scholarly things, write my own things, etc. I do feel like I’ve gotten a lot done, I’m not really sure I would have gotten a lot more done if I was sabbaticalling in the traditional way, and I’m looking forward to next semester when I will essentially have an extra course release left over from splitting this one semester sabbatical over two.

Still, if I had the chance to do this over, I wouldn’t do this again. Sabbatical lite was the best choice I could have made at the time, but my advice to anyone contemplating splitting up a sabbatical themselves would be to not do it. And if I have a chance to apply for another sabbatical anytime soon, I’ll probably ask for the full year. Of course, with my son on the verge of entering private secondary school (probably) and then college (hopefully), I doubt I’ll be able to afford that….

20% or so of all college students took at least one online class in 2006

From this article from Inside Higher Ed, “More Online Enrollments:”

More students than ever are taking courses online, but that doesn’t mean the growth will continue indefinitely. That’s the takeaway from the Sloan Foundation’s latest survey, conducted with the Babson Survey Research Group, of colleges’ online course offerings.

With results from nearly 4,500 institutions of all types, the report, “Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning�, found that in fall 2006, nearly 3.5 million students — or 19.8 percent of total postsecondary enrollments — took at least one course online. That’s a 9.7-percent increase over the previous year, but growth has been slowing significantly: last year, the jump was 36.5 percent.

But compared to the growth rate for enrollment overall (1.3 percent), the report notes, the online sector is still rapidly expanding. Most of that expansion is happening where online classes are already being offered.

I don’t really have time right now to read through the article in detail or the report its based on, but as someone who teaches online, I’m sure it’ll be useful later on.

At least two U.S. Presidential Cabinet members have blogs

I came across this Associated Press article (hosted by Google? I didn’t realize they were doing that nowadays), “Two Cabinet Secretaries Start Blogs.” The secretaries in question here are Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. The story says that there’s a State Department blog too, but they don’t have a link to that one.

Leavitt’s blog seems a little more real to me than Chertoff’s:

“I’ve decided to wade in a little deeper into blogdom by writing one for the next month or so,” Leavitt wrote in his first entry. “I’m going to see how I feel after that time period. I may continue; I may not.”

Leavitt says he writes every blog entry himself, often late at night in hotel rooms when he is traveling. He is concerned that his entries are too long; on Aug. 20, he wrote 2,444 words about his trip to an orphanage in South Africa.

Chertoff began blogging in September so he could “open a dialogue with the American people about our nation’s security.” Chertoff comes up with an idea for a blog entry, then someone in the department writes it, and Chertoff heavily edits it, said Jeff Ostermayer, a department spokesman who oversees the blog.

The article also quotes Michael X. Delli Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, who is pretty critical of these sorts of blogs:

Public officials usually are promoting policies and not offering honest reflections of what is going on, Delli Carpini said. The key to a successful blog is to make sure the information in the blog is honest, accurate and serving a public purpose. “The very same technology that can make things more democratic can also be used for manipulation and propaganda,” he said.

I see Caprini’s point, but I’m not entirely sure to what extent the typical, “garden variety” blog is “honest, accurate, and serving a public purpose.” I mean, many blogs are written under a pseudonym, and I would argue (at least I think I am arguing in BAWS) that bloggers shape their identities through their words, what they choose to discuss and not discuss, in response to an audience, and to meet their own needs as a writer. That’s not the same as what Carpini is talking about.

A lot of blogs– including these two– are popping up nowadays that are more or less PR pieces. It seems to me that the extent to which this is a “problem” has a lot to do with one’s definition of a blog. But I don’t have too much time to get into that this morning….

Incidentally, I spent about 5 minutes skimming through these two blogs, and I would say that Leavitt’s seems a lot more “real” than Chertoff’s, though Chertoff’s isn’t really just his blog, either.

Actually using video games to teach: "Playing to Learn"

This looks like a promise link/topic for ENGL 516 for the winter term: via Confessions of an Aca/Fan, I learned about Playing to Learn by David Hutchison. Henry Jenkins has a long post/interview with Hutchison; this links to “part one” of the interview, and I’m sure that a part two (maybe more) will come after this. Here’s a quote from Jenkins blog that indicates to me how this might all fit into this stuff:

Hutchinson’s book promises over 100 game activities appropriate for classroom use, a selection that spans across academic subjects (language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, history, geography, health & physical education, drama, music, visual arts, computers, and business) and grade levels (including both elementary and high school). Writers like James Paul Gee, Kurt Squire, xx and David Shaffer, have made the conceptual argument for the pedagogical value of games; our own Education Arcade has been one of a number of academic research projects focused on designing, prototyping, and field testing games for instructional purposes; Hutchinson’s focus is on what we can do in our schools right now, using projects already on the market, to tap student and teacher interests in games. In the course of the collection, the models many different conceptual approaches for thinking about games — including many designed to foster core media literacy skills. The result is a book which will be valuable to classroom teachers or for that matter, parents who want to engage their children in meaningful conversations about the place of games in their lives and about how games structure the way we see the world.

Sounds cool to me, and as the parent of a child who plays plenty of video games, it might be something I pick up for my own purposes, too.

Scary costume for Halloween

Via boing-boing, I came across this site that has a Senator Larry Craig paper bag mask kit. Basically, it’s a couple PDF files of Craig’s infamous post-bathroom arrest mugshot that you download, print, and paste onto a paper bag. Ingenious, but since I am the one who usually answers the door and passes out candy on Halloween, it might be a little too scary for the kiddies.

The problem of finding reusable shopping bags

A couple weeks ago, I finally came around to the idea that I ought to use some reusable shopping bags for groceries and such. Part of it is the environmental issues everyone already knows about– a zillion plastic and/or paper bags filling up landfills, etc., etc., etc. But part of it is just to help declutter the house a bit and ditch all the plastic bags that get stuffed under the sink or paper bags in the garage or whatever.

But here’s the thing: Whole Foods was selling lovely canvas bags, but for eight bucks each, and it is essentially an advertisement for Whole Foods. So I went seeking alternatives, and surprisingly, I pretty much struck out. I tried places like Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, other grocery stores, a hardware store, etc. Nothing. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough, but if places like the Food (W)hole want people to use reusable bags, they need to price them better.

Anyway, the solution I came up with was Ikea: I bought two of their giant and reusable bags for 59 cents apiece. They are gigantic, made out of a durable plastic, and the roll/fold up into a small-ish ball. I had shopping success with them yesterday; we’ll see how it goes from here.