Post from sabbatical-land: 224 days to go

There are many fuzzy borders and details in sabbatical-land. I said the beginning of my sabbatical was December 15 because that’s when I turned in my grades and was more or less done with my official EMU duties for the year. But that was/is fuzzy because I’m still doing some EMU things– answering an occasional email, working with some graduate students, and attending some job talks for a search we have going on right now.  I’ll be at the office on Thursday pretty much all day.

And I am calling the end of my sabbatical as September 1, because that’s when the current faculty contract expires. But that date is fuzzy too because the term doesn’t officially start until September 8 (assuming we aren’t on strike, of course) and I’ll almost certainly have to start preparing for the fall term a lot earlier than Labor Day. In any event, about 35 days down, about 224 days to go.

I have been working some, but in starts and fits. A lot of it is because of the holidays– and I purposefully said I wasn’t going to do any “work” during the Xmas/New Year’s break– and part of it is the distractions of the beginning of the school term for both Will and Annette. Part of it is also what I can only describe as “nesting,” which has involved a lot of cleaning and arranging– probably necessary– and elaborate cooking projects like making sausage and trying to “grow” my own natural bread starter– probably not necessary. I have been doing well at going to the gym and/or exercising, and at the end of the day, that actually is my first priority for this sabbatical. I am beginning to understand why retired people– I’m thinking in particular of my parents and in-laws— always describe themselves as “busy.”  I feel busy too for no actual reason.

I am happy to report that I have done some research, if by “research” you mean “look stuff up in the library a bit.” The fist part of this project (at least in my head) is about a few of the innovations that created the context for MOOCs, and that includes/starts with correspondence schools.  So far, this has meant going to the U of M storage facility and checking out the 1933 book University Teaching By Mail. That and the more contemporary The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties: From Self-Improvement to Adult Education in America, 1750-1990 by Joseph Kett (1994) will be my late afternoon coffee shop reading today. Earlier this morning, in writing about my own correspondence school experiences as an undergraduate, I drilled down the rabbit hole of past catalogs at the University of Iowa. So that kind of thing.

I’ve also signed up for/am beginning a few more MOOCs. Starting today (more or less), there’s e-Learning Ecologies, which is being taught by Bill Cope (who gave a great keynote talk at Computers and Writing when it was at UC-Davis) and Mary Kalantzis. Two quick things I’m already noticing on revisiting Coursera: lots of plugging of the revenue generating Signature Track, and the “MASSIVE” part seems only now to be “massive:” that is, this class has 4,000 students rather than 40,000.

I’m going to be poking around at MOOC MOOC, which isn’t so much a regular MOOC as it is a meta-MOOC discussing MOOCs on Twitter and such. I’m curious how useful (or not) it will be. I’m signed up for a course that doesn’t begin until February 10, “Algebra X: Introduction to Algebra” on edX.  I have always been a bit of a math idiot, and so I’m sort of curious if it’s possible for me to teach myself/”learn”/stay motivated in a MOOC where I really can’t fake it through the content, which hasn’t frankly been the case in the previous MOOCs I’ve taken. Along these lines, I’m signed up for a self-paced Udacity MOOC called Intro to iOS App Development with Swift and I’m thinking about taking the self-paced version of the edX Introduction to Computer Science (aka CS50). I started CS50 last year and I thought it was pretty well-done, so it might be something worth sticking to a bit longer in sabbatical-land.

Oh, and I keep threatening Annette to try to teach myself the ukulele, maybe with this or maybe with this. Sure, it’s kind of a goof, but it also is something I can see fitting into the dissertation project. One of my biggest problems with what I’ve read about MOOCs so far is there is this assumption by too many that if you give people content and a little bit of guidance, those people will just learn. But autodidacticism is hard, limited, and uncommon. I’ve taught myself how to do a few things– I learned to do some simple juggling from a book, and most of my cooking knowledge is based on books and the food network– but that’s about it. So I thought it might make an interesting side story to write about/think about teaching myself a musical instrument. And Ukuleles are cute.

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