Midnight in Madison

Tonight I sit in a quiet hotel room, classical music drifting out of the alarm clock, with a view of the lighted Capitol just behind the gauzy curtains.

I should write about the intellectual stimulation, the debates between the quantitative and qualitative practitioners, or the development of my project.

But tonight, I want to write about the fun of socializing with new friends and fellow academics. I’ve met some amazing people here who are so dedicated to their disciplines, and who care deeply about teaching well and making a difference. They also like to eat, drink, share stories, and, above all, laugh.

Tonight a group of us went to a much posher theater than I have ever been to, and plunked done our hard earned state wages to see the newest Woody Allen flick Midnight in Paris. I was smitten with the cinematography of gorgeous Paris, and giddy with the utter literariness of the story.

But I especially loved the camaraderie of this group, which included a French professor, a former English major who specializes in communication disorders, a consumer economist, and an IT specialist (and me). The dorky giddiness was cause for celebration and discussion, and I think we all left the theater a little lighter after an intense few days.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to connect and to grow as a professional, and I hope the personal lessons of kindness, curiosity, and optimism these colleagues share stick with me even when the work of teaching and research becomes difficult. As it will.

But we’ll always have evening in Madison.

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new wheels

new wheels

In our fourth month of dating, Gregg and I went to Office Max to buy supplies–back-to-school binders and post-its and dry erase markers for me, pens and notebooks for him. This was a date.

We realize our dork factor is high.

We also realize that we belong together because of said dorkiness (among other endearing qualities).

The other day—incidentally, the two year anniversary of our first date—we stopped in Office Max to look at micro sd cards (him) and pretty folders and pens (me).

Across the room, a simple, classy chair sat, ready to roll on home with me. I walked towards it, taking in the cream colored faux leather and the slim profile. As I settled into its supportive seat, I suddenly knew what my home office had been missing.

I needed this chair. For the ergonomics, of course. I’ve been using a wicker chair stacked with several old decorative pillows, which fit in with my cottagey, beachey aesthetic, but proved to be less than comfortable for long stretches of time.

I sat in the chair in the middle of Office Max. Its pleather arms and back wrapped around me.

“How do I look?” I asked Gregg as I swiveled around.

“That chair is you.”

And on sale.

In true deliberative Dr. J style, I left Office Max without the chair, but with a packet of my favorite pens (Pilot V Razor Point Extra Fine, Black).

And returned the next to buy the chair. My chair. 

Isn’t it pretty? and Professional?

I expect to think and write many thoughtful and frivolous words and essays and blogs and poems here, fashionably supported.

tale of two (un)conferences

Last week was a study in contrasts. Early Tuesday morning, I drove diagonally across the state to Richland Center to attend one of the UW System’s signature events for teaching staff: Faculty College. This four day workshop brings together teaching staff from all of the UW Systems schools for dynamic discussion of pedagogy and socializing. Participants take three workshops, centered on issues of teaching and learning, and spend mealtimes comparing their experiences and making new bonds. As a Wisconsin Teaching Fellow (WTF), I attended an additional session each day to begin clarifying my project and forging stronger ties to the other Fellows and Scholars with whom I’ll be working all year.

On Friday, I drove back home, exhausted but also exhilarated. I had a small set of easy practices to incorporate into my existing classes, I had a clearer sense of my WTF project, and I had new friends among the Fellows and Scholars. Over dinner, I chattered away about the quirks and dorks and connections to my captive audience of one. Gregg commented that I seemed to glow with a sense of purpose and engagement.

After crashing to sleep in my own bed, I woke to a too early alarm and packed a different bag and loaded up my tech tools. I drove north to St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, a suburb of Green Bay. I was still exhausted but excited to learn about the Digital Humanities and THATCamp LAC, an unconference that evolves around participants’ interests. Since my WTF project studies blogs, and may particularly interrogate how the media itself aids in student writing, I thought I could learn a great deal from this conference.

After parking, I walked along neat sidewalks, past brick buildings, old and new, that signified the historied ambience of a small liberal arts college (SLAC). I entered the library and my heart soared and panged–a gorgeous space of glass, a blending of technology and traditional bookshelves, an array of common areas and comfy spaces to sit and reflect or chat between classes. It felt both like home–the kind of undergrad I attended–and someplace foreign–nothing like the campus I currently call home.

The unconference began with hellos to a former undergrad prof and colleagues from another UW System school who are crafting a DH curriculum. I met a handful of other participants from across the country, all of whom were decked out with tech toys and great ideas about integrating technology and pedagogy. In the first session, we collaboratively planned the sessions for the next day and a half, aided by online surveys and google speadsheets.

I attended two bootcamps–sessions in which the “presenters” shared their expertise and guided participants through design and implementation. I was encouraged by the overlap between my previous workshopping in Richland Center and the opening talk–the importance of Liberal Arts/Sciences education, the high impact of some teaching practices, and the possibilities of teaching students how our disciplines work.

Throughout the day, my exhaustion overtook my mental processing capacities, as well as my desire for social connection. I realized that my experience and understanding of DH is fairly rudimentary, and I have much to learn if I am interested in becoming more of a DH practitioner. Beyond pedagogical practices that I already use–blogging, wikis–DH offers more substantial project creation that links technology with humanities interests of texts and culture and various ways of reading and creating meaning. The possibilities are exciting–maritime archives, recovering and delving into local narratives, and so on.

But that’s a long way down my professional road.

For now, I’m studying blogging. I’m introducing my students to some fairly basic forms of digital literacy. And I’m okay with that.

ThatCamp LAC

Today I’m attending the digital humanities unconference, ThatCamp LAC, at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. Humanists from around the country are discussing how to integrate digital humanities projects into undergrad classrooms, sharing tech skills, and thinking about the present and future of the humanities.

My head is swirling with ideas of how to enhance the DH projects students are already doing in my classes. I’m especially excited to have students create content for a community group, and also to enhance the wiki projects. I’m thinking of different platforms (google sites instead of wikispaces, for instance) and neat tweaks that can transform assignments into something more meaningful and useful.

I can already tell that my class planning this summer, for my fall semester classes, is going to include much rethinking, revising, and innovative backwards design. That is, thinking more specifically about the course’s learning outcomes, and crafting the assignments with those gols in mind. While I’m already doing this, I have much more I can–and will–do.

So far, today’s discussions have nicely dovetailed with what I learned at the UW System Faculty College (stay tuned for a post about that!)