Geek fest

AERA and academics have descended on Philadelphia. I am here to catch up on the latest in the world of education. I keep getting distracted. First, there was the opportunity to attend the frozen four (note – this is not an autocorrect fix – it is hockey. I do know the tall guys in short pants are playing basketball.). The hockey tourney actually begins after the conference, but planning was required. Flights had to be rebooked and youtube lectures created (I still have a job). Then, it turned out to to be tech week. Philly claims to be a technology hub. New one on me, but I am certainly not an east coast guy. Anyway, the geeks were gathering last night to show off their indie games and to set the Guiness record for the largest Tetris game (pretty esoteric if you ask me).

Sure enough, the geeks were out in force. It was cold and drinking beer when it is 40, windy, and I am without parka is not my idea of having fun. With the exception of the cold temp, it reminded me of waiting for fireworks to start on July 4. It had to be dark and the supposed start time passed without any action. Not knowing what to expect or which building was to be transformed I kept scanning the skyline. Finally, I spotted it and took a picture so I could leave.

tetrisguinessWhat a week, first it was a record cold day (-5 on Apr. 1) in Grand Forks and now the largest Tetris game in Philadelphia. What could possibly top such experiences?

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3-D Maker

The opportunity to become a “Maker” seems to have captured the attention of many educators. Learning by making is assumed to offer more authentic experiences and technology is argued to allow many more individuals of all ages to have such opportunities.


I think I happen to know one of the more unique “makers”. One of my colleagues, Dr. Miller, is interested in how to assess the aptitude of individuals with visual impairments. A traditional intelligence test is not practical. Dr. Miller evaluates methods of assessing cognitive abilities based on the ability to determine the patterns in physical objects that can be explored by touch. I think of it as something like Raven’s Progressive Matrices, but I am not certain if Dr. Miller would describe his approach in a similar way.

joemakerThe challenge for Joe (Dr. Miller) has been how to create the various objects he uses in his research. Enter the 3-D printer. Now, as he learns more about how to create 3-D shapes, he can develop his sample materials.

makerpiecesHere is one story related to Joe’s learning curve with this equipment that I find amusing. Files for several sample objects came with the equipment – e.g., a nut and bolt. I walked into the room where Joe was exploring the capabilities of his new printer and found him “printing” several pocket combs. If it is not apparent why this struck me as funny, you might take another look at Joe and his machine.



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Remaining Vital? Try to Keep Up!

Writers at the StarTribune (also carried in the Grand Forks Herald) offer a Sunday collection called “Staying Vital”. I guess it is directed at folks like me – the old guy at the office who does things that make him or her seem dated.

All stereotypes are true of some folks some of the time. It is true my “taste” runs to the clothes and tunes from the ’60s. I have a turtle neck somewhere and might wear it if my wife does not catch me first. I prefer “cool” over stylish. If that dates me, I apologize but you should try listening to some decent music for a change. My last 215,000 or so listens can be viewed at lastfm. I am aware of Kid Rock and enjoy a little Marshall Mathers (I suppose you would recognize Eminem) from time to time. Of course, I listen to pop music, but that comes and goes (I guess this is why it is called pop). I prefer Miles Davis, Dylan and Bob Marley for staying power.

Then, there was the advice on the use of technology. Potentially, the thing about being mature and avoiding technology is also a stereotype. While it is true that my wife is reluctant to purchase new frames and lenses so she can use her Google Glass more frequently, that would be more a financial matter rather than a preference. She is still trying to decide. The thing about being older is that you hopefully have the time and resources to explore new things if the new things interest you. This is one of the other realities of being older. We happen to be interested in things that are also of interest to many in their 20s. Not everyone is, but that hardly means they are not “vital”.

We older individuals feel it is too bad that younger folks have seen so little of the world and have explored so few good books. Going to Florida for spring break hardly counts. Perhaps you do not understand the value of international travel or investing time in developing your breadth of knowledge. It is important to have a broad context to interpret daily experiences. Without this breadth, you may conclude that your every experience is unique and new.

Try to keep up.

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coffeesweet sweetsI have a certain way of viewing the world. I cannot turn it off. I guess it is my curse.

Before heading off to class, I show up at the coffee shop in the Union to get my cup of coffee. This morning, on the counter, I notice a ballot being distributed to customers and so I read about the issue under consideration. It turns out that Food Services understands the University commitment to healthy living and wants advice concerning the foods they serve. If customers agree, they plan to eliminate an item from their offerings. I captured a couple of images to bring this to your attention, but I want you to consider what unhealthy choice you would predict is being considered.

If you have read this blog frequently, you can probably guess where this is going. Should the coffee shop stop offering the chocolate glazed donuts? How about the 700 calorie, chocolate muffin? How about the monster  cookies (calories beyond calculation)? Nope! The referendum is addressing the dangers of coffee creamer – the regular, unsweetened or hazelnut creamer (35 calories). Evidently, the creamer contains hydrogenated oil.

I know that muffins also contain oil so I checked with Harvard on the dangers of muffins. If you are a muffin muncher, do not try this link. There are options, but none of them look anything like the offerings available in the Union shop.

You probably recognize that I sometimes tell stories to get people to think about larger issues. My university is just now venturing on a campaign to identify university priorities. There are multiple committees and consultants. Much time and resources will be expended to help us focus on important things and issues. It occurred to me the participants may have decided to start small and work their way up. I do acknowledge that those working on this important agenda have offered everyone a chance to weigh in. Now that we all have had a say on whether creamer is available in the union, we can turn our attention to other matters.

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Enthusiasm and creativity meet reality

enthusiasmIt is Spirit Week on campus. Not certain what that means, but count me in.

I can see one of the planning sessions. It probably went something like this. We could set up a booth on central campus just like we do in the summer. We could add a couple of heaters but we probably won’t need them. We could lounge around in easy chairs and maybe pass out hot cocoa. It will be cool!

Cool is right. Evidently -7 and 15 mph winds were too much to overcome. You do have to admire creativity and enthusiasm.


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Come on, get happy

I had hoped to have a quiet and relaxing Saturday morning, but a CNN news story roused me to action. The segment claimed that North Dakota had been named by the Gallup agency as the countries “happiest” state. If this story had surfaced on the Internet, I would have wondered whether it was an Onion story. I even checked but found nothing. So, it must be true.

OK – it is always important to approach these weird news claims with a critical eye. Perhaps I could use the article in class and discuss how we can be mislead by faulty research methods. I would have expected more from the Gallup organization.

The official Gallup announcement provides some detail. North won based on strength in specific categories. ND ranked first in Work Environment and Physical Health. The top ranked states are located in a cluster in the upper midwest – South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Minnesota. Job creation growth was proposed as a major factor in the rankings.

ABC was as confused as I was.

BTW – I will soon be moving and selling my house. I know, I know – leaving the happiest state. There is an opportunity for someone here. Take advantage of my foolishness. Come on – Get Happy.

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I turned in my notice today. I informed the local administrators that I will not sign a contract to renew my tenured position at UND. It is a little early, but if I wait until I receive the contract the department will find it difficult to fill the position for another year.

It is interesting how quickly the news gets around. There were book reps in the department today and not one paid me a visit.

Standing by the side of the road,


I began to feel invisible.


P.S. – Evidently, my daughter was concerned by the tone of this point. She sent me the following:

I like this one better:
“He knew now that it was his own will to happiness which must make the next move. But if he was to do so, he realized that he must come to terms with time, that to have time was at once the most magnificent and the most dangerous of experiments. Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre.”
― Albert Camus,
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Academics and Relevance

Maybe you do not read the NY Times, but I am guessing this editorial will catch the attention of many either directly or because the article has been passed on via social media.

I am an academic. The Times editorial is complaining about people like me. Actually, I am probably not a good example as I do blog (since 2002) and make an effort to communicate with practitioners of my discipline (educators interested in having their students use technology). However, I also agree that academics need to do more than try to impress each other or a funding source.

Research is important, but too often it seems to go no where. Academics will suggest that “basic research” is essential. I agree – practical applications build off basic research and when practitioners in R&D do R, they do not invest time and resources in basic science. Still, academics encouraged by evaluation systems that count publications rather than meaningful contributions can become mired in work that allows them to spend most of their time writing up results rather than manipulating real world variables that matter. Survey research obviously annoys me as do simplistic publication counting systems. Such are the foci of second tier institutions and programs.

Just so you not think I am anti research, I am a defender of this university commitment. Some meaningful discoveries do occur. The public likely does not appreciate the professional development and instructional benefits of research. Faculty members should not be educators teaching from books, but practitioners of their discipline. Students are also frequently involved in research activities and such projects encourage a different way of thinking about content.

What would I change? Once tenured, I think faculty members should be able to describe what their work has accomplished. What problems have they solved or at least what progress have they made? Is there a direction in what they are doing? I think some effort at application is important and should be rewarded over continued efforts at what may or may not be trivial. If you take on the challenge of showing your ideas matter, you do not depend on others to discover the significance in what you do.

Writing for the public is a contribution, but again I am not a fan of those who can do nothing else. The individual best in a position to explain is the individual invested in the scholarship. We need individuals who will take responsibility to be scholars and who understand the job is not done until some effort is made to communicate the value of their work to anyone who will listen.

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Leaving the Job Market

The pseudo anchors at Fox “News” were speaking rapidly and waving their arms again. They are back on the topic of health insurance. I had hoped they would move on to something else, but there are evidently few conservative topics available. Evidently, there was a report that some folks are leaving the job market because they can receive health insurance. Every time they get riled up, I get agitated and have to raise the dose on my medication. The issue is certainly bad for my health.

Perhaps I can help by offering a personal story. I may be one of those persons leaving the job market. Yep, I am part of the problem, but I would like to explain my situation. The words we use to explain events are important. What the news guys (I guess there was one woman) describe as “leaving the job market”, I would describe as retirement. I hope to be able to retire.

I plan to retire if I can get health insurance (so far their description is accurate). Here is the deal. When I leave my job, I must go on the market and find insurance. I do not have one of those cushy jobs that comes with insurance in retirement. My wife has a pre-existing condition. Some years ago she was denied long term care insurance because of her pre-existing condition. I have already had negative experiences with the insurance industry.

So, before I sign the paper that moves me out the door (no turning back), I am going to find an insurance plan. I assume the Affordable Care Act will make this possible for both of us. I want to leave my job to someone else, but I am not foolish. If I have to continue working to maintain coverage for her, I will have to do that.

So, what do you think? Is the Affordable Care Act a detriment to employment? For whom?

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Curmudgeon Day

Tomorrow is National Curmudgeon Day. I wanted to bring this to your attention in case anyone wanted to wish me well. Actually, thanks to son-in-law Jim for letting me know that tomorrow was my special day.

So, I prepared for tomorrow by visiting EPCOT. This is a great location to prepare for tomorrow. I had fun criticizing the prices and my feet will likely still hurt when I get up to face another day.


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