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Month: March 2013

Classes and Appointments over the years

I’m currently writing my annual review document… or rather, procrastinating on writing my annual review document. In the process I made a graph:

appointments and classes

For the last three years we’ve been making a concerted effort to help students understand that they can ask many of their questions at the reference desk (especially students in first year seminars). We’ve also gotten more involved in curricular initiatives on campus, using more of our time to work on curricular-level projects than we used to. I think both of those changes are reflected in the downward trend in appointments. (And really, not a ton of change over time if you disregard that one weird year where apparently EVERYONE needed me.)

I think that curricular-level work, plus slow but steady relationship building with the faculty in my departments accounts for the upward trend in classes. This year I’m more than a standard deviation above the mean.

I’m sure my colleagues have very different graphs since our departments fluctuate in different ways. But I found my graph interesting, so I thought I’d share it.

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An amateur anthropologist walks into a MOOC

My Facebook Network
My Facebook Network

The first week of this MOOC I’m taking has been fascinating. I’m in a class of about 1,000 people from all over the world and (it seems) all levels of experience with Social Networking Analysis, with computers, and with standard English. We watch short video lectures, complete homework assignments (graded by computer programs), and talk to each other on the class forum (where there are also “Community TAs” — I’m not sure how one becomes a Community TA).

Nothing about this format or topic is anything like previous college or graduate school experiences for me. I’ve never done online courses before, I’ve never done computer science or social sciences, I’ve never taken a class with more than 30 people in it, and I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t just ask my professor for clarification or help. As it turns out, all of these put together mean that I spent a good portion of the week feeling pretty lost.┬áThe lectures and homework were fine. I’ve done those two things before. But really, if I weren’t very used to self-directed learning (I was home schooled until college) and very used to the way college courses work, I’d be really at sea. And, indeed, it looks like several people in the forums are very much at sea.

It seems like this course, at least, requires some pretty firm previous knowledge about how to navigate a course. Knowing to look at the syllabus (and find useful things like the existence of homework, for example…), knowing to pay close attention not just to the blurb instructions of the assignment but to read the entire full assignment, reading about how the assignment was going to be graded, etc.

It also seems to assume quite a bit of technical knowledge, most of it pretty basic, but not all of it. Knowing that it’s possible to change file extensions, or that the “#” sign at a beginning of machine-readable text means that the machine isn’t reading those lines, knowing that if you don’t know how to change config files Google will probably be able to tell you, etc. As great as the Community TAs are, they haven’t been very attuned so far to the differing levels of the people asking them questions.

And finally, it turns out that I answer questions for a living, and that I can’t seem to turn that off. If someone’s lost and gets “you’ll need to update the config file to fix that bug”* and the person is still lost, I swing into full librarian mode and write out all the steps in layman’s terms. If they’re still confused, I make a little Jing video. It’s pathological, I know, a hazard of the trade.

*All of us Mac users are having real problems running the software that does the network analysis. We’ve labeled it the Grey Screen of Death, and I spent a couple of hours today trying to figure out what causes it so that we can stop having it happen.

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Do you MOOC at all?

So, I’m taking a MOOC in social network analysis. Last week when I signed up and saw that it started in March I thought “whew, in a while then.” Turns out, this week is March. Who knew?

Anyway, the class started yesterday, and I started being behind yesterday. Today I watched the Day One lecture, which had two quiz questions embedded. And I got them both wrong. So this is going really well so far.

Why am I doing this to myself? Well, three reasons. I want to see what one of these things is like from the inside, I’ve always been kind of fascinated by social network graphs, and I’m curious to see if it’ll help me help students evaluate scholarly work. English scholars are a network, so where are the communities within that network? Interdisciplinary work would also be interesting to be able to graph. Seems like I should be able to find especially influential or well-linked nodes within those graphs.

Who knows if I’ll be able to do that kind of thing by the end of one course (probably not), or if I’ll even make it to the end of the course! But I’ll give it a good ol’ college try.

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