Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Us vs the Algorithm

 I just finished watching Jeff Orlowski's "The Social Dilemma" now playing on Netflix. 



I should have known, (I do teach a class on Social Media) and I guess I did know. In the class, we talk about our tech addictions, which platforms, what we can do about them. We read Andrew Sullivan's seminal, early work on the topic ("I Used to Be a Human Being"),  and we work on creation of content that promotes social good. I did know that a few young, white boys in Silicon Valley used a convergence of persuasion technology, psychology, algorithms, and ruthlessness to create addictive design. 

"If the product is free, then you are the product."
Your data is the product, your Pavlovian responses are the goal - ruthlessly applied so that they make money on every click.

After watching the movie, I turned off notifications everywhere; deleted FaceBook on everything but one laptop; deleted Twitter everywhere (I'll use the web), and I promised myself not to post anything political when feeling frustrated by the noise/news of the day. Political posts from me sway no one; I'll leave it to experts to do the research and their journalistic jobs. 

I deleted Instagram ages ago. Never understood the appeal of Pinterest - given my home looks like a summer camp, perhaps that's not surprising. 

Watch the movie. The very men who created social media explain the damage they've done. Political polarization, echo chamber connections, trolling, teenage bullying and the loss of self-esteem - including self-harm and suicides, conspiracy theories and rising movements of hate, Russian interference and manipulation of elections and lives. All of it, as these men intentionally conditioned us to go deeper into the rabbit hole, to lose track of time, to seek ever more unsatisfying digital validation, to alter ourselves with endless selfies and selfie-filters, and more and worse and never-ending and no solution in sight to put this evil genie back in the bottle. (PS: they're sorry. Oops.)

No solution, except for each of us to recognize the harm, pull ourselves out, and advocate for regulation.

Watch the movie. Save yourself and each other.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Living in Yoga Pants



A friend asked me whether I thought we'd be less selfish, less capitalistic, more concerned with the missing US safety net when we come out of the Coronavirus crisis. So many good things came out of American hard moments (Social Security, WPA, Medicare/Medicaid, unemployment insurance, SNAP, Pell Grants...) Could we do it again? Come out of this hard moment kinder?

My answer: I hope so. That's all I've got right now - but let me tell you how I got there, from "nothing else to do" observations and pondering how the personal is political.

First, I've realized that no one has EVER cared what I looked like, now that I've been  cutting my own hair and doing my own nails for months. The "nails" part is clipping when they looked like claws or get snagged in my socks; the hair is holding it away from my head and hacking with kitchen shears. No one noticed, no one cared. Granted I don't see many people, but with summer, I am now making an effort to meet friends outside while the weather is lovely. If you're not making great effort to do this, start. You'll be sorry you missed your chance later, in the cold and dark seasons of Covid, AND when you finally share a walk or glass of wine, you  realize your friends care about you, not how much money you spend on your grooming. Maybe post-pandemic, we'll be less primp-centered and spend our spare time contemplating how we let an incompetent administration kill so many of us, sicken so many of us, trap so many of us for so long?

More evidence that we care about you, not your primping:

  • I do shower before meeting up with people, but on isolation days? The whole day slips past and no moment was the right one. People didn't use to bathe every day. So, I'm time traveling with Covid back to simpler times and it seems to be working out. 
  • Attire: yoga pants and a floppy shirt. I just can't pay a lot of attention to my clothes right now. Sitting outside with friends or walking in the park is a rather informal affair, so - informal garb. On non-visitation days, it's hit or miss. Whatever I tossed on that morning is the same "style" I now use to dash into the grocery store or PetSmart. I do dress up for my doctors' appointments. I'll have to ponder why I want to impress them, but even then, it's not what I wore to work back in the day. Those professional clothes sit in the back of the closet. 
  • I have a few Zoom shirts ready for business-style meetings. (I'm not a hooligan!) And I even make it a point not to stand up and let them see my dog-hair yoga pants. 
  • My mom used to say "We'd worry less what people thought of us if we realized how seldom they do."  It used to hurt my feelings as she always said it when I was taking too long primping or asking for brand name clothes. I understand her point more deeply now that I see people less. It's a bit liberating. 
Thanks for reading about my new grooming habits, and how they've made me easier and less self-centered. I hope that equates with a bigger heart and better use of time.  Like mom told me, I'm not going to worry what you think of them (or me). It's just me, pandemic posting, and you'll forget you read this very soon. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Pre-Covid Moments

I've been noting (maybe obsessing on) the low level anxiety, sadness and loss that accompanies this pandemic and how it's changing my personality and those of loved ones. You note it also in the tense vibrations of the person near you (6 feet!) in the grocery store or in the car ahead of you, honking their horn or forgetting to turn.

Me: I'm slower, sadder, quite a bit dumber/scatter-brained, and lethargic to react. BUT in the last week, summer burst onto Tacoma. Yes, we start summer late here in the PNW, and never expect sunshine till the 4th of July. I always hope for downpour that day, so people blow less fireworks and Max and I spend less time huddling in bed or the closet.

Today, oh it's gorgeous. We walked in the park, then I had coffee and read the news on my rooftop deck. Later, we're headed for a walk on the waterfront. (Click on lovely pic from @RaviPatel above, more at https://photosbyravi.com/).  Outside, well-distanced from other humans, I keep beyond the 6 foot barrier and pull my mask down and just breathe. Max and I wander - sniffing green, sea, summer air, and living things. He has little understanding of Covid, although he's become even more skittish - most likely reading my stressors.

Ignoring this undercurrent, I can't help but note how summer makes it easy to forget: that I'm lonely, high risk, might die, might live but suffer. In summer moments, with the sun on my face and Mount Ranier letting me know all is right with the world in this moment -THIS moment - my sadness and anxieties drop away and life is glorious. THIS moment. Hold onto that wherever you are and create your one perfect moment. Make a cup of tea and breathe. We're in for a long haul.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Covid Brain

Moving through the pandemic is happening in slow motion here in my home, my circle, my small and infrequent experiences as I shelter away from the madness. With only small bits of work, few interactions, little responsibility I find myself trudging through each day. Today, I told my god-daughter that I did nothing yesterday and it took me all day. AND it left me exhausted.

Lists of things to do which would have numbered 5-10 on a normal Saturday now have 3 at most on whatever day it is that I just can't recall. Tuesday, Friday, Someday in July? And of the 3 things on the list (yelled to Alexa, as it's too much work to find paper and pen), I cross off 1 or 2 and move the others over to Someday/Whatever Day+1.

This can't go on this way, can it? I feel as if I'm in fog, on water, far from shore. Rather than a paddle, I pick up my phone and read the news, browse FaceBook, read another novel on my Kindle. Sometimes I watch Netflix, sometimes I go to bed. Or I don't go to bed and read till 2am. Because what is time when there's no sense of the day?

I want to do better, want to be better, want to seize the day (whatever-day) and make the most of this reset in momentum. Maybe reset, stop, head in another direction? Up?

Monday, April 1, 2019

Lost in the Clouds

Hello, peeps! I haven't been posting for a long time. This long-form communication seems to have become reserved for those privileged with time and resources to research and think deeply about issues that matter. Certainly many of us have witnessed how this way of navigating the world becomes more and more of a rarity in our lives and those around us. We work long hours, rush to manage the simple daily acts of love and laundry, spend too much time texting, FB-ing, Instagram-ing (so instant!) and worse. Even our president spends hours tweeting instead of reading complex government briefings. We are lost in the digital clouds.

But here in higher education, as we move increasingly more surely into becoming cyborgs, I find that those moving most quickly ask (and are held accountable to answer) tough questions not asked of their seat-in-butt classroom peers.

One question that comes up OFTEN is how to better use discussion boards to create engagement, inquiry, reflection. I love some of the methods my colleagues are using, and I admired the inquiry found in this recent reading I came across that summarized the work of my community of peeps to continue to find better ways to create engagement, learning, student success and path to graduation.

Some of them might even work in the classroom!

Discussion Boards: Valuable? Overused? Discuss.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Change is Gonna Come

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will


It's so odd when a song gets stuck in your head. When for no reason, Sam Cooke's voice starts up and it just doesn't stop. Why is that? Even more perplexing, I now find myself asking Alexa to play a song, and as it starts, I wonder 'why that song?' When I'm thinking about 100 other things, making dinner, or checking my email, I ask for a song long in the past and not heard for years. And now, I have to wonder if Alexa hasn't become some kind of therapist, bringing forward thoughts hard to acknowledge in the forefront, but clicking away behind the noise. 

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will


I write about change in higher education - what it would take, the post-traditional students, eLearning, analytics, finance, student debt, adjuncts...CHANGE! Whether we like it or not. Whether we're ready or not. I write about it with some urgency, given my role of researching, recommending, cajoling, forcing, and implementing change on my campus. But the fact that Sam Cooke is popping into my brain surprises me, as I usually don't write about it with the heavy heart imbued in his song. 


I think I'm getting tired. I do believe it's coming - that change, that oncoming train, that fierce wind - but as Sam says "a long, long time coming" and so many lives ruined  in the process. 

Student debt$1.4 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. The average 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year. Graduates today are putting off moving out of their parents' homes, having children, buying a house. They are trapped in a perpetual, grinding adolescence. 

Adjuncts: More than half of US faculty are part-time and even when full-time, ~70% of all faculty are not on the tenure track. We are educating scholars, in a grueling PhD process, for careers no longer attainable. 

Loss of public trust: Not unique to American institutions, where the public has lost faith, partly because of economics, of deep political divisions, and frankly, because large institutions (government officials, higher education, the medical community...) have squandered good will with a recklessness that takes our breath away. We could fix it voluntarily or we can be pushed to the wall. My fingers are crossed we go with the former, but the academy is faculty-governed and what's in their best interests is not beneficial to students, parents, communities, the Boards of Regents. It's a wait and see. 

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Here's the thing that exhausts me: some of the best minds tackling this problem lay outside the academy, and we ignore them. The ones inside are being shut down, silenced, asked to step down, denied tenure, denied the ability to teach in new formats. On the administrative side, change agents don't stay. They burn out or get pushed out. 

Faculty voices that are rising, asking for an end to the hiring of bureaucrats, aren't complaining about good leaders being hired to do good work. They're pushing back against all the obstructionists settling in for life - still refusing to use calendaring, to return emails, to look at data...to change. Some are pushing back at the endless stream of offices supporting division and identity politics. And thus the sorrowful, Sam Cooke sounds that accompany new research on the state of higher education. 

It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will


I believe that.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Online Students: What do we know about them?

Interesting report from the 2017 Online College Students survey. Things we should have guessed, but nice to see validated. What did students say? They want an engaging, quality education. They want to be a part of a community, and want their instructor to be accessible. Online students are students first, and want what students have always wanted. To make meaning of the world. And yes, as "non-traditional students" become the tradition, more than 1/4 of the 20 million students now in college are taking some number of online courses. They want flexible, technology-infused choices. 

At UW Tacoma, we're still behind the demand curve, with 15% of our students signing up for all our online courses within hours of opening for registration. They want more reduced seat time options, but not at the cost of quality. The want to love their courses, but they WANT online and hybrid courses. (This summer, a course with an enrollment cap of 30 had almost 80 students put their name on the waiting list, but no one dropped the course. Eight of the top 10 Wait List courses were online. The other two were pre-reqs that students desperately need. We're working on listening to the needs of our students, but change is hard.)

We hear you, students of UW Tacoma and the 5 million+ now taking online courses. We're working on it. 
-Colleen