Friday, August 17, 2007

How Compulsive People Plan Vacations

We spent last week in New England, and stopped by Wellesley College. It started like this:

One cold rainy day last winter M and I sat in our kitchen with a couple of glasses of wine, thinking about how fast D was growing up and how short the period of time is while your kid is old enough to be physically competent and intellectually eager, but emotionally not-yet-screwed up. This lamenting grew into a travel conversation, you know, the "wouldn't it be great to take D to nepal" kind of discussion. Given 1) finite resources, and 2) limited overlap of free time between M's and D's school schedules, and 3) the alarming speed with which we seem to be hurtling through time, we decided we'd better get organized about vacations.

It would help to know that we feel obligated as parents to travel with our child, as frequently as possible. This might be just a ruse for us to travel as much as we can, but we like to pretend it's all about providing a multicultural experience for D. Anyway, in dreary January we made a list of places to take D before he gets too old to want to travel with us.

The List includes foreign travel to Japan, Australia, Great Britain (particularly Scotland and England), American historical sites like Washington DC and Boston, scenes of natural beauty or general coolness like Bryce, Zion, the Grand Canyon, the Canadian Rockies, and Hawaii, and repeat trips to Alta, New Zealand, Italy, and Alaska. Whew!

Several months later we were watching our summer calendar fill up with the usual Jedi camps and family visitors and hiking weekends and we thought, "Yikes! Quick! We need to schedule a family trip!" We dutifully got out The List and picked Boston. Why? D was born there. We lived in the area from 1990 to 1999 (and in Western Mass from 1978-1981). It has easily accessible history dating back several hundred years. It's very close to Cape Cod. And it's much cheaper than just about everything else on the list.

I will NOT describe trip details, even though I'm sure you'd all be fascinated to read them. I started to write this blog about visiting Wellesley College, so, sorry, that's all you get.

Wellesley is gorgeous. Actually, New England is gorgeous. I had completely forgotten about the trees. Here we have very beautiful tall dark trees that look best when mist is whirling through their branches. In New England they have very beautiful short fat trees that look best from underneath with the sun poking greenly through.

Wellesley has many of these trees -- ancient beeches and sugar maples and white oaks -- growing luxuriantly between perfectly maintained gothic classroom buildings. I used to work in the science center, which we found open on a Sunday afternoon. We went inside and found my old office and looked at pictures and comics and quotes proudly decorating the doors of my old colleagues. We wandered through a computer lab with the same old signs (Save Often! Don't Forget to Log Off!) and the Victorian-era greenhouses where we found displays that couldn't have changed in 50 years. And I felt a pang of homesickness. Mainly I miss the sense of establishment, of an institution deeply rooted and cared for, stately and elegant like the trees on the lawn.

Bothell is not charming. But it's beautiful in its way. Our trees are tall and straggly and wild and they get tossed around in November wind storms. Blackberries and horsetail grow like crazy beneath them. Foxes and deer and eagles and hawks and great blue herons and weasels live in and around them. I like to think that UWB is like that - vibrant and scrappy and growing and resilient and nurturing, all at the same time.

I was happy to come back, happy to throw in my lot with the scrappy frontier adventurers. It was fun to work at a place like Wellesely, but it never really felt like home. Now I just need to bring in some pictures of D and cut out some Dave Barry quotes to start a trend in office door decoration!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Library 2.0

Our fabulous Library team is using Blogger to communicate about their experimentation with a variety of emerging (or recently emerged) technologies. What they're doing is safe and supportive and very, very cool. Nonexperts pick a topic, do some research, and create a little module in the form of a blog that includes recommended readings, some instructions for getting started, and an opportunity for reflection. Please see the original Learning 2.0 program for the inspiration behind this project and links to other libraries doing similar things.

They kindly invited me to participate (thank you, Sarah), which of course raises my last question of "do I blog?" for which I'm still awaiting an answer. But also! While I've been assiduously not-blogging, Blogger has been making blogging cooler with new ways to customize sites and more easily add images (see proof at right) and probably do things I haven't even thought of yet.

So... maybe I'll pull up my old list and get to work. Maybe.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Do I blog?

Earlier this week I was sitting in on a presentation by a candidate for our Writing Center Director. He asked, "How many of you blog?" I raised my hand (along with a surprising number of my colleagues), but I felt really guilty about it. I don't blog, do I? I have a blog, but do I blog? Not since November!

And then today I listened raptly to Gardner Campbell's amazing and inspiring audio piece that manages to combine poems and music and planets and time and wikipedia into one coherent and moving message at the end of which you want to punch a fist into the air and shout, "YES!" In closing Gardner talked about a caravan as a kind of community of spirits moving through this adventure of life together.

I'm still not sure I really want to blog. But I do want to be part of that caravan, and I think maybe there's some responsibility for contribution involved with that participation. So maybe I'll start up again.

We'll see. In the meantime, y'all should go listen to Gardner.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Academic Resource Center: the Little Engine that Could

Six weeks into classes, and our Academic Resource Center is just sitting there, so over-resourced and underused it's almost embarrassing. It was a good idea -- to create a space where students can go to get help about any of the services offered by our academic support group, a one-stop shopping resource offering services from the library, IT, media center, writing center, and quantitative skills center. For a great example of this kind of thing, see Allegheny College's Learning Commons. Their director, Rick Holmgren, told me that it took five years for the idea to take shape and become a reality. Which should make me feel better about ours given that it hasn't even been a year since we started talking about it.

You could say, with apologies to Dr. John, that we were in the right place but it must have been the wrong time. Except it's the other way around. Our timing was really good, but we're in a really bad location.

Timing - We've got freshmen now, and they're young and unsure of themselves (although they want you to think they've got their acts together). Many of them are really in need of some help, but they aren't taking advantages of the services we offer.

Location - We've put our new center in a suite housing the advising and administrative offices for lower division. It's not a place where students tend to hang out. It's behind a door down a weird hall from the cafe. It's so quiet you feel like you should whisper when you're there. However, it was the only place available to us, so we happily made it our home.

We're all getting pretty dispirited about our persistent lack of visitors, thinking it must be a failed experiment. I'm trying to hold on to the fact that it is a Good Idea. But we need to be in a place where students already go. This is a non-residential campus. These tend to be the places where students hang out when not in class: the Commons Cafe, various little study alcoves, the vistas (open areas with chairs and tables and great views of the wetlands), and the Library.

We need to be in the Library. A year ago, even six months ago, I would have said this wasn't possible for political, financial, and logistical reasons. Things change, thank goodness. Things haven't changed enough yet for this kind of move to happen, but I can see a possibility. If we can hang on through the rest of the year, we might be able to get to a better place. Which would still be only two years into this this!

In January we need to submit a proposal to fund our Center for the 2007-2008 academic year. We were originally hoping to be able to show use statistics at that point demonstrating the need for this service. Instead, we have a harder job of convincing a committee of students that this really is a good idea, in spite of the lack of use this fall, and that it's worth funding the continuing experiment of making it work. I think we can do this. I think we can. I think we can. I think we can.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Getting a Life*

One of the really intriguing things that people were talking about at educause this year was the use of multi-player on-line games in instruction. I was mulling that over yesterday while reading blogs and came across a mention of Second Life in ALA Tech Source, lauding the amount and variety of library activities available there. I don't know where I've been (I think maybe under a big soggy leaf), but I decided it's time to see what the fuss is all about.

So I downloaded Second Life and dived in. I felt completely lost at first, and kind of hounded by messages and crowds. All around me people kept saying things like, "Help! I'm confused!" and "Am I naked?" and "What do we do now?" I hate crowds, and I hate confusion. And I was very confused because for some reason I couldn't see my own avatar. So after floundering about I quit, and went back to trying to tame my email - a familiar, declawed, sedate old beast. But before long I went back to Second Life, which had politely left me in the museum-like space where I had been when I quit, although I have no clue how I got there.

And ah-ha, this time I could see my avatar! Immediately somebody says, "Hey Elizabeth, nice body!" (Elizabeth being my name there.) And I thought, "Jerk!" But then I thought - what is that weird striped thing behind me? Do I have a tail? Yes! I have a big furry white and black tail, and I have lots of other furry stuff. And I have no idea why. Obviously I have a lot to learn. I removed the tail and put on some clothes and then I flew for a couple of minutes.

Next time I visit I'm going to quit obsessing about my looks. I'm excited about checking out Info Island, for example. It's interesting to me that librarians seem to have taken this so much to heart. What an image change that profession is going through!

* This entry honors the memory of Ian Beach, who most certainly would have been bubbling and excited about Second Life possibilities some time ago, who would have given me a really hard time about the furry tail, and whose vision and enthusiasm continue to be missed, big time.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Back from EDUCAUSE

It's always rejuvenating, going to EDUCAUSE. And although I usually get some great information from the sessions themselves, the best part is the talking and listening - the conversations with colleagues who get closer every year and chance meetings with strangers during lunch or while waiting for the shuttle.

I think I swapped baggage. I left home feeling ineffectual, very cynical, and pretty cranky about it. I didn't even know I had gotten so cynical until I started talking with fellow Fryers, most of whom were enthusiastic and optimistic and excited about what they were doing. They gave me lots of encouragement:
  • In response to my reluctance to blog because of its public nature - "Use a pseudonym!"
  • Regarding my hopelessness about how long it takes to make things happen - "But you've only been working on it for a year! It took us 5 years to do a similar thing!"
  • About being buried too deep in the organization's structure to be effective - "Gather information and tell good stories!"
They spoke in happy exclamations like that. I despaired that I had let myself get so cynical and resolved to have a positive attitude. It's not like I left all my baggage in Dallas, though. I just traded my old bags in for something different - less cynical, more determined, but with other bits that I won't mention because this is, after all, public. I'm not going to use an alias, even though it was a great suggestion. I'll just try not to pour it all out, even though some of you (my mom, for example) would probably be more interested in reading this if I did.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Blog Topics

You sure wouldn't know it by reading this blog but I actually do think, a lot, about blog topics. I've got quite the list of things that I might some day write about. Maybe. Here are some of them:

- Why I don't blog very often
- Exercise as a way to access the divine (or maybe it's just the sublime)
- UW's courseware discussions
- Can collaboration work when there's unequal commitment to a project?
- Moving forward in spite of it all
- Be prepared and be flexible: where IT resources need to go
- Strategic planning
- Perseverence
- Being creative with space, or Where do we put all this stuff?
- Thoughts on Facebook and MySpace
- My karate kid

Maybe someday soon I'll start at the top and work my way down. Maybe.