teacher, learner, humanist: united by water, part one

a repurposed paper factory is now the home of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Last week, I learned and experienced and played in Alpena, Michigan. I participated in my first ever National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) program, this one part of the Landmarks in American History and Culture series specifically for two-year college faculty. Our program: United by Water: Exploring American History through the Shipwrecks and Maritime Landscapes of the Great Lakes, was co-hosted by Alpena Community College, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Our leaders, Cathy Green, John Jensen, Patrick Labadie, Kurt Knoerl, Jamin Wells, Wayne Lusardi, Jeff Gray, Russ Green are experts in their fields of marine archealogy and maritime history; some work for governmental agencies, some for various non-profit marine organizations, and very few for academia. After my summer workshops with the UW-System, I was reeling with information on pedagogy and high impact practices (HIP). Our first morning in Alpena was a series of lectures–not HIPS, mind you–I was still eager to learn and absorb information. In the afternoon, when a mostly sleepless night was catching up to me, I worried I wouldn’t make it through another lecture. And then James Delgado, reknowned maritime scholar (and two-time diver on the Titanic shipwreck, mind you) began to speak. He spun tales of maritime culture, shipwreck, and human interest. He held me spellbound, attentive, and wanting more. He touched my heart and soul, which he would readily admit is his goal.

Jim Delagado and I are sailing out to sea, er, Thunder Bay, along with the rest of the workshop participants and leaders, to view shipwrecks.

I realized throughout the week that pedagogy takes many forms, and sometimes the best teachers are those who don’t actually “teach” for their day job–and yet, in their own way, they do. As the week continued, we left the classroom and explored archives and conservation lab; gazed at shipwrecks through glass bottom boats, a snorkle mask, a video sent from a remote operated vehicle, and sidescan sonar. Here’s where all the lectures coalesced–out there, in the watery depths and shallows, in the site itself.

While I spent most of the week thinking about maritime culture and my place in it, I also thought briefly about pedagogy and practice. I appreciated the different styles of the instructors, and kept an open mind about presentation styles I personally do not use (lecture! because I’m terrible at it!). Personality and attitude and passion make the biggest impact, more so that particular practices, I think.

I also thought about partnerships, and the amazing programs organized under the federal government. I thought about models of working together, private and public, educational and commercial, to capture students’ interests, provide compelling opportunities, and transform the world.

In short, I learned so much more than I thought I would, and I will be forever changed because of this amazing experience.


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.

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!)