So, hello again. Yes. I know. I have not been on here in a while. In fact, if you look back at the posting history on this blog, I have not been posting regularly since the fall of 2014. Here it is, the summer of 2016. So, what happened?
We had our fourth kid in the fall of 2012, and by the time I stopped posting regularly, she was up and running around the house. In fact, if I look back at my extracurricular work (blogging, Coursera courses, and the like), a lot of it stopped around that time. I was able to keep going through the first couple of years until she was very mobile and demanding on time. I can’t say it was a conscious decision, but it was something that my wife and I had conversations about. We discussed the constant pressure that I felt to be on all the time in my job. With a teaching load that is at least half online, there is pressure to be doing work 24/7, and, to a certain extent, I was. However, since that point, I have tried to incorporate more family time and more free time into what I do, so that I am not constantly expected to be working. I am not saying I was constantly working, but I was always work-aware, checking email, looking at my courses, and trying to fill my free time with relevant activities. That all changed around the spring of 2015, when I changed how I balance my work and my life to be biased more toward life. And, this blogging has been one of the things that has dropped off.
Another decision that affected the blogging came straight from this decision. I had always had Sunday evening online office hours, even though few students ever attended them. I took two hours out of every Sunday and sat in front of the computer in my office on a video-conferencing program to be available to my students. That was an ideal time to also sit down and write a blog entry, as I had to be in front of the computer doing work for that time. Of course, since almost no students ever came on, I had the time for blogging as well. After the fall of 2014, I dropped these hours because they were so poorly attended and because they were more of an inconvenience that a help to my own work-life balance. While occasionally productive, it brought work home even more directly than I do now, and it was something that became harder and harder as the toddler got more mobile. Dropping those hours is not something I regret, and it has again moved me more toward the life side of the work-life balance, but it has had an impact as well.
In looking back on it, I have mixed feelings about the change. I miss blogging regularly, and I feel more disconnected from my work at times. It also has made my actual work time more stressful, as there is more pressure to get things done in the time I am working. As well, when work does poke into life, as it did in the last semester because of a committee I was chairing, it is that much more stressful as well. However, the overall effect has been good. I do spend more time with my family than before, I think, and I am not as tied into work as I used to be while at home. As well, I have been reading more than I used to, especially of fiction, which I love. I have been using Goodreads to keep track of the books that I read, and during the last school year (September-May), I read 39 books. I consider that a success as well.
Lately, however, I have been feeling the need to get back into pushing myself more academically. I need to find a balance, and I have not yet figured out how to hit that balance. I do not necessarily think that I have leaned too far toward life at this point, but I do think that I have not committed myself to as much of the extracurricular work activity that I should be doing, such as keeping up this blog. I would like to take more continuing education-type courses. I would like to read more in my field (yes, of those 39 books, not a single one was a history book). I would like to work on course redesign, lecture rewriting, and new teaching methods. And, I want to do all of this without disrupting the balance too much. So, we shall see how it goes.
I guess you will see this result directly. If I am regularly posting on here, then you can see that I am working more outside of just teaching. So, keep me honest and let me know when I fall behind. Also, do you have any thoughts on this?
I’ve been meaning to do this post for a bit, but my grading has distracted me from other things.
I attended a webinar last Thursday on the subject of blogging in the classroom. It was led by two authors of blogs and attended by several others running blogs in the classroom. In this case, the focus was history, and I found the fantastic blog Teaching United States History through the chat. We bounced around ideas among the 15-20 people active in the webinar, and I found it productive and academically stimulating. The primary discussion centered around how blogs could be used and how they could be evaluated as part of an assignment. I can’t say we came to any profound conclusions, but I enjoyed the time there and hopefully have made some contacts in the broader blogging community out there. I wish I had more time to devote right now, but I’m just able to get out these short posts right now.
So, here are some of my thoughts on blogging.
- As I’ve been exploring the “flipped” classroom idea, the question keeps coming up of how to evaluate the students. Weekly quizzes are an obvious way to get the students to do the work, but I’ve never really felt that quizzes truly evaluate much more than basic recall. LearnSmart through McGraw-Hill is a bit better, but at its heart, it is still a quiz. I also don’t really want to get weekly papers from the students, as I’m the one who then gets to grade them. So, something ongoing like a blog could be ideal.
- There is a danger with a blog that is not well defined. I tried wikis that were worked on over the course of a semester, but 90% of students did them all at the end of the semester. If I did not have weekly requirements for the blogs, most students would not do them until the last minute. And, if I have weekly requirements, then I’m back to grading something from every student every week.
- I like the idea of an informal blog for the students. It would be required but be open ended in what they write. But then, would they post well? Would I get what I want out of them, or would they turn into a busywork exercise of the students?
Just a few things I’ve been thinking about. What do you think?