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The Crash of ‘05: Data to Dust
by Joe Zimmerman, T/LI Coordinator
O n Sunday January 15 th as I was home watching a football game with my kids, the phone rang. It was Josh Strigle, czar of the Distance Learning Help Desk. “Do you remember me telling you the other day that Web CT was sick?” His voice had a foreboding tone. “Well, it’s dead and gone.”
Web CT is the course organizer for most of our 50 or so online and hybrid classes. It is also used by many professors as on online supplement in regular classes. What follows is information not on why it happened, but what it meant for the many instructors who rely on Web CT.
A few faculty members had backed up their courses on their computers. And keep in mind that Josh had backed up all the Web CT courses himself in December of 2003. If he hadn’t, things would have been disastrous. On Monday, the Martin Luther King holiday, Josh and company began the tedious task of creating all new course shells; he then began uploading the 2003 version of the courses. Most instructors had these backups as a starting point. But even with that backup, things were very ugly for most online instructors and students in the days following the crash.
Actually it affected individual instructors in a large variety of ways.
First, all the Web CT mail was gone. Any correspondence between students and instructor had disappeared. Also all discussion board messages were gone, disappearing into the vast abyss of cyber space. (Pat Fleming told me that one of his students had actually printed the messages, so he lucked out).
The group of instructors who got hit the hardest were the ones who created their course after the 2003 backup. Those who had recently changed to new textbooks weren’t very happy either.
Another hard hit group was the instructors whose tests had vanished. There are two ways to create tests on Web CT. One is to create them on a Microsoft word file, and then use a program called Respondus to translate that file into Web CT. The people who did that had the Word files saved on their desktop and just needed to restore them into their course. But the people who create their tests right in Web CT, and who made tests recently, those people lost everything. They had a lot of work to do in the last few weeks. Of course things could have been worse: the crash happened in week 2 before any tests were taken. Web CT automatically scores tests and stores the results for student and instructor to see so if the crash had happened later in the term, not only the tests, but the results of those tests would have disappeared.
Web CT is a big container of files for a web course. Each course is made up of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of files. And suddenly all of those files had vanished. But copies of those files are on one’s computer, right? Well…
The biggest problem was that many of the final drafts of individual files for a course were stored on Web CT, not the desktop. Here’s why. When one is creating an online course, he/she usually creates the web pages or html files on the desktop (with a program called Dreamweaver) then uploads those files into the Web CT shell. With the most recent version of Web CT, once the file is uploaded, one can edit that file right in Web CT. So when a new semester comes along and changes must be made, downloading each individual file to the computer, editing it, and then uploading it back to Web CT is not necessary.
Editing and updating right in Web CT is extremely convenient, but it leaves one vulnerable: the latest draft of the file is stored on Web CT not one’s computer. When the server crashed on that fateful Saturday, so did all the most recent files.
People who never used Web CT (and some who have) asked me in the past weeks why the courses weren’t backed up. The partial answer: Web CTappears to back up the course for you. The problem is that it put this backup on the same server as the original course. So the crash erased the course and the backup. (To effectively backup a course, go to Control Panel>Manage Course>Backup Course. Now the important part: downloadthe backup to your own computer or disc).
The computer service people along with the distance learning folks really must be commended for the speedy restoration of these classes. I am glad I got to amuse them a little on that Monday. I did backup one of my online courses on my home computer. But that very day, I am not kidding, my home computer refused to boot up. I thought the worst: my hard drive had crashed at the same time as the CFCC server. This coincidence was not lost on the computer staff (who all have a very good—perhaps bizarre—sense of humor). Luckily we were able to take the hard drive out of my computer, install it in a different computer and retrieve the course. Thanks again, guys. (I was not so lucky with my other online course. Like everybody else, I had failed to make a backup and spent the next few days restoring it).
Although it was a team effort, the person who did the most work was Josh Strigle. He had to deal with some frustrated and irate professors not to mention about 500 confused students. But Josh took it all in stride. He knew it could have been a lot worse. As he told me the other day, “At least the crash happened in week 2 and not week 15.”
Crash Fact Number 1 : Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong it will. There are numerous servers on our campus. The only one not backed up was the Web CT server. That server is the only one that has crashed in recent memory.
Crash Fact Number 2 : According to the experts, Steve Hill included, here is what happened to the Web CT server (in layman’s terms): The head that reads the information fell off the small arm it was attached to. As the server disks continued to spin, this small metal head scraped all the information right off of the disks. When we sent out the server to a company specializing in restoring files in fried servers, they informed us that 0% of the files could be restored. The data had turned to dust. (Sounds like a country song).
Will the crash of ‘05 happen again? Probably not. Web CT courses are now backed up by a mirrored hard drive. They are also now being backed up by tape, like many servers on campus.
Besides, I imagine a lot of online instructors are now backing up their courses themselves. If you need any help doing this, please stop by the Professional Development Center and Steve Hill or Debbie Towns will be happy to lend a hand.
As many of you know, I had a wonderful summer traveling to India on a Fulbright and to Armenia as part of Project Harmony’s U.S-Armenia Teacher Exchange. As often as I could, I wandered into an Internet café to record my real time thoughts and narrative on my activities. What follows are reflections on some of those passages (with the original blog passages included). Along with each passage is a photo from that part of the trip, a visual memory stacker of what our group of 16 Fulbright scholars experienced. Digital cameras, web logs and other technologies can be handy tools in processing our travel and professional development experiences. In recent weeks I have also produced three posters which group some of my photographs by theme; these have become valuable visual aids for my courses. Please take a read or a look at what appeals to me now, a few months removed from my experiences, as I share these thoughts in this blog-cum-debriefing. In a future issue of Directions, I will reflect on my Armenian mindstores.
Seeking 7 th Century India: Mammalapurum
Mammalapurum was searing hot in July when we traveled to several temples at the outskirts to the town. I remember how our guide Vaidy made those without a hat purchase one to protect their heads from the sun. I wrote the following about our visit during the 4 th of July holiday to this tourist town in southeast India. When the tsunami hit the east coast of India, this tourist city of 20,000 was swamped by water. Luckily, all its inhabitants had evacuated.
July 5, 2005
From July 2 through early on July 5, the trusty group of sixteen Indian galavanters (a favorite word of my Irish immigrant father) spent a touching weekend at the Club Med like facilities of Sterling Resorts near the temple ruins of Mammalapurum. Fifty eight miles from Chennai on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, these ruins contain 1500 year old temples, a series of at least ten, which exemplify ancient rock cut monuments to various Hindu deities. The “live rock,” as our erstwhile Mammala historian Dr. Jagdish from UCF calls it, contain detailed etchings one might call bas relief today. Some of these inscriptions stretch for 90 feet. Others in cave temples hold larger than life representations of Shiva, Ganesh and Vishnu, along with others in the Hindu pantheon. In some cases, erosion from the nearby bay has taken its toll, marking the impermanence of all things, even rock as hard as granite. But in others, the narrative flow of a people merged with their faith in pursuing their livelihoods is apparent. Collectively, our group shot more than 1000 photos and the video cameras rolled for another four hours or so. The temperature was hot in these open spaces. Our fearless leader Vaidy ensured that those without head cover purchase some vintage straw hats from one of the countless hawker/souvenir stands bordering each temple. Whenever we visit a site or a museum the parade of souvenir purveyors is staggering. In Mammalapurum, it seemed as if there were three shops (not just people) for each visitor. Some offer the best price in sandals (I bought a pair and probably paid too much for the market: $5), beads, granite statues, charms, balls and other beautifully crafted stone, hewn by the countless sculptors banging their hammers and chisels nearby. Seemingly this Indian kind of rap never left the white noise of this area. I shot good video and stills of these craftspeople.
This photo shows one of Mammalapurum’s many 1300 year old temple complexes.
Each structure was formed from “live rock,” the process of cutting, chiseling, measuring and molding a massive stone into
a tribute to one or more Hindu gods. If the artisans made a mistake, their new task was to find a new rock.
Indian Education: Chennai
During our four week Indian visit, the Fulbrighters were privileged to visit three Indian schools, two in Delhi and one in Chennai. What I remember most about these visits is the earnest respect the children exhibited for their teachers and school staff. At all levels, schooling is very competitive; to gain entry to any level of the system—from pre-school to advanced doctoral studies—students compete for slots. Imagine an FCAT program which gave individual grades for success as well as failure! As a result of this competitive educational landscape, test prep services flourish throughout the country. The blog excerpt below narrates our first school visit to the Children’s Garden School in Chennai.
July 6, 2005
Then today, another 12 hour day spent like this. Rise at 5:30 am, share coffee with the early birds, run (for dear life) across the street to the phone hut to make calls to my family back home, meet in the lobby for evaluations of the previous days activities, and then experience one of the highlights of the trip to date: a visit to the Society of Children's Garden School for a tour and lecture or this pre K through 12th grade girl school. Upon arriving we watched the girls race, as a passenger on a motor bike, by bicycle, on foot or via car, to assemble in the schoolyard, an expanse of dirt perhaps 150 feet by 50 feet. There in the finest rows and columns you could ever imagine did this group of 1300 girls from 5th through 12th grade wait for us to take our seats in front of them, where we would introduce ourselves and receive a traditional Indian lei-like greeting from one of the students. We watched these girls sing the school song, inscribe a saying for the day on the courtyard blackboard, and quite frankly, get ready for a serious day's work. Most of us were astonished by the order, the attentiveness (imagine 1300 young people standing with their arms crossed smiling in front of you, not a soul cutting up, poking a neighbor or slouching out of line). I would have failed this drill! Following this impressive opener, we retired to a classroom for a PowerPoint lecture on the history of the school and the attempts the Society makes to ensure that all its students are cared for and taught well. We visited classrooms from creche (day care) through 6th grade and watched these children learn without shoes, their sandals, sneakers and flip flops precisely stored in the open air hallways within their number lined spot on the floor. In most classes, students sat on the floor around square wooden tables, their maths (sic), grammar, spelling, geometry or history lesson presented to small groups at each table. We visited a computer lab funded by IBM which helped students learn word choice in English sentences. I was most impressed by the messages around the room which dealt with ergonomic factors in computer use. Once our opportunities to play, learn, watch and marvel at these young girls learnand work closely together in crowded spaces (the average class size is 40 even in nursery school and the typical classroom space would be too small for a group of 15 stateside children). Before a sendoff snack, we then watched a group of at least 100 girls engage in what is called a mass drill. To the beat of a marching drum, one group of 50 girls performed routines with a series of long wooden bamboo shoots which they carried, placed on the floor, raised over their heads and stepped into and out of for several minutes. This was followed by another group of at least 50 students who used an instrument composed of cymbals on a string and a short wooden stick to weave in and around each other in an aerobic activity. Not a beat was missed, a stick dropped, a formation deviated from. Interestingly, the only girl not dressed in the standard green skirt and white shirt school uniform was one young girl in an orange dress, celebrating her birthday on this day and allowed to wear something different.
Young Indian women of the Country Garden School in Chennai, India uniformly sing their national
anthem at the start of school on July 6, 2004.
The Sari Shop
I did not blog our group’s visit to the A.G. Babu Sah Silk and Cloth Manufacturers on July 8. However, I did take photographs in the shop, one of which appears in this section. This was quite a day in Kanchipurum, a village some three hours by van from Chennai. A nesting site in the state of Tamil Nadu for the Pallava rulers in the 5 th through 7 th centuries, Kanchipurum is the site of more than 1000 Hindu temples. We visited three on this day. Following lunch, our group spent another three hours in the sari shop, watching the weavers magically twist their cotton and mingling among the considerable public in the showroom. Shopping, save for books, has never been a keen interest of mine; hence the time spent watching others select “their” saris seemed to plod. I did manage to photograph the unique interaction in the shop, a place recognized in the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler as the source of India’s, if not the world’s, finest silk. Prior to this shopping spree (our group would purchase more than 30 saris) we had toured the weaving side of the building where a young sari maker taught his son the craft of sari making, a profession which earns the accomplished two dollars a day. The caption for this photo is from The Sari Shop, Rupa Baiwa’s recently published first novel.
Buying a sari wasn’t just buying a sari—it was entertainment, it was pleasure, an aesthetic experience.
They would always come at least in pairs, if not in groups. Then they would talk about the sari, discuss the merits and demerits. They would make faces if they didn’t like a sari, and shake their heads ruefully at each other, quickly saying that the sari would have been all right, had it not sorely lacked a good pallu, or a better designed border, or a slightly different shade of color.
(The Sari Shop, 64-5)
On the Footprints of a Mythmaker: Gandhi Smriti, New Delhi
A week later, while recovering from a deep cold, I wrote the following passage at the Defence Ministry compound in New Delhi after we had visited Gandhi’s martyrdom and cremation site. Earlier in the trip I had been given a fifty year old copy of Gandhi’s autobiography by a history professor from the University of Mumbai ( Bombay) who had lectured to the group of Fulbrighters. Passages from this book inspired me as we intersected with several Gandhi markers throughout our 27 days in India.
July 10, 2005
In the afternoon, our focus was Gandhi, the iconic, mythological figure towering over modern India. Following drive-bys of the Parliament Building, the President’s Building and other structures commonly found in a country’s capital but in many Indian cities rare conveniences indeed: wide streets, reflecting pools, no parked cars and broad panoramic vistas, our first stop was Gandhi Smriti, a museum at the site of Gandhi’s assassination and the place where Gandhi spent the last year’s of his life. These walled grounds, resembling a retreat or a park, consisted of a two story building which now served as a museum with pictures and sayings attributed to Gandhi. Deep within this museum are spartan and meager surroundings, the place where Gandhi spent his last days. One glass case contained his belongings, a time piece, walking stick, fork, writing element among them. Outside the back of this building was a two hundred yard path representing the final steps of Gandhi’s life. The developers of Gandhi Smriti have placed on the walk raised footprints which lead up to the place where Gandhi was shot in early 1948. I had never seen anything like this and did several things: measuring my right foot next to the footprint on the path, calculating my stride to the 150 steps on the walk, and even walked on the raised footprints
themselves only to earn a mild rebuke from the attendant nearby for my stepping over the line. Can you think of many (any) memorial sites which replay the final steps of a society’s mythological heroes? The three famous assassinations during the 1960s of the Kennedy Brothers and Martin Luther King are remembered by place: Dealey Plaza, the Ambassador Hotel, and the third floor of a Memphis motel, but not reenacted to place the visitor in the path of someone else’s destiny. Following a closer look at the museum photographs, I videotaped step by step thewalk from the museum to the place where Gandhi was shot, looking down for the most part, not up ahead, trying to focus on the moment not on what had just come or might be facing us. No figure stands out more as an embodied representative for Indian independence than Gandhi. That Gandhi Smriti is called his “martyrdom” site further memorializes the life of this man. In the discussion our group would later have with Gandhi scholars, we would toss some of these notions around as to the life and myth of the man.
Gandhi’s last steps are memorialized with these raised cement sandal prints leading to the site where he was murdered in 1948. Five miles away, on the same day, the Fulbright group also visited the site of Gandhi’s cremation.
I found the use of a blog to be a valuable, contemporaneous tool to make sense of what I went through. You can start your own, perhaps even use it as a tool for professional development, by going to any number of blog sites, including blogspot.com. Mine is located at http://pattravel2004.blogspot.com if you are interested in reading more about my summer experiences and I would love to speak with you about creative ways to record your experiences while they are happening.
Here are some additional pictures of Marina Beach in Chennai, India. These beaches on the Bay front were completely destroyed by the tsunami. The people in the pictures that follow lived on the beach in July 2004
National Council on Family Relations 2004 Annual Conference
by Judy Davis, Humanities and Social Sciences
“Inequalities and Families: Culture, Gender, Race, Economy” was the topic of the 66 th annual NCFR conference I attended on November 17-20 in Orlando. A special feature of the conference was a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations International Year of the Family, with the goals of (1) taking stock of whether the quality of family life has improved in such areas as economics, health, migration, and sustainability; (2) reaffirming the original mandate to encourage the incorporation of effective family policies and programs into national development strategies; and (3) continuing to encourage regional institutes to promote and undertake research and development of policies related to family issues.
Although the two international plenary sessions, “International Networks, Ideas, and Family Change” and “International Year of the Family, 1994-2004 - Retrospective and Outlook to the Future” were instrumental in broadening my perspective on family issues worldwide, the information I gained by attending some of the smaller sessions, including those listed below, was more directly beneficial to me as a professor of Introductory Sociology and Marriage and Family.
“Recent Advances in Caregiver Intervention Research” focused on the projected growth of Alzheimer’s cases from the current 5 million to an estimated 14 million by 2050 and the mental and physical health issues of the rapidly growing percentage of at-home family caregivers in the U.S., the majority of whom are wives and daughters.
One important research study has revealed that individual psychotherapy with the goal of increasing the caregiver’s self-efficacy is more effective than support groups in alleviating the harmful effects of caregiver stress, even beyond the period of care giving. Ironically, in light of the conference’s topic this year, the presenters did not address the issue of unequal access to individual psychotherapy!
“The Forgotten Parent: Fatherhood, Father Involvement, and Child Well-being” emphasized the positive impact that fathers can and do have on their children and grandchildren, as well as the fairly recent research indicating that fathers worldwide would spend more time nurturing their children were it not for work restraints (a common statement made by mothers also, I would add). Employers, in becoming more cognizant of this need, have begun to allow their male employees increased flexibility in their schedules. However, this trend has been slow and is not expected to increase dramatically any time soon; neither is the level of hands-on care given by fathers to their children, at least in the United States.
“Sibling Relationships” reported the changes that occur in the relationships among siblings between the ages of 18 and 35 accompanying transitions into marriage, pregnancy, and parenting. Although birth order, number of siblings, geographical proximity, and gender are important variables, in general, marriage itself does not significantly affect the frequency of sibling contact; however, any negativity in one sibling’s marriage often brings that sibling emotionally closer to his or her other siblings. Having only one or two children is positively correlated to an increase in a sibling’s contact and level of intimacy with other siblings, but, oddly enough, only with those siblings who do not have children themselves.
“Inequalities and Health in Later Life: It’s a Family Affair” presented data confirming the disparity of health care and health status along racial and ethnic lines, beginning very early in life. Black females, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are more likely to have still-births and spontaneous abortions. Diabetes, rampant among minority groups, is more common among Native Americans than other groups and is twice as prevalent among blacks as compared to whites. In general, racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive routine care or quality care due to childhood deprivation, lack of health insurance, less formal education, and low-paying jobs, not to mention persistent discriminatory practices in the health care system and other social institutions.
The last session I attended, “How to Become a Certified Family Life Educator,” reviewed the advantages of and procedures for becoming fully licensed in this field, one of my goals for several years. Assuming that I would be learning about a lengthy, involved, and costly training program, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I already qualify in all three areas: academic achievement in the field, ongoing professional development efforts, and work-related experiences as a former family social worker and a current educator of Marriage and Family and Human Sexuality.
My sincere thanks to those who facilitated my participation in this conference.
John, why do you teach?
I teach because I believe in the ultimate worth of higher learning, in the Academy, the Lyceum, the schola, the collegium, and the universitas. I still consider the first time I walked onto a university campus the most liberating experience of my life, the beginning of a great intellectual adventure, my own never-ending story. You might suspect that I never quite got over being a student, contracted a fatal disease of sorts—let’s call it academentia—and I would have to agree with you. I suppose that would make knowledge my femme fatale. She holds me willingly captive to this day and she and I refuse to let go of each other. I am reminded of a delightful little book on medieval monastic culture entitled The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. In it the noted scholar Jean Leclercq describes the monk’s search for knowledge in the Middle Ages as a thoroughgoing passion. I would have been perfectly happy to have been a 13 th-century Dominican, spending my whole life in some great monastic library, in love with antiquity, pouring over the manuscripts, preserving the texts, and in turn adding to the body of human knowledge. Now I sound a bit like one of Umberto Eco’s characters in TheName of the Rose. All of this may explain why I went off to The University of Chicago—the omphalos of the world—to do doctoral work in Medieval History. If I ever disappear, look for me on Mt. Athos or in Hyde Park. Again, why do I teach? I am convinced—perhaps deluded into believing—that I have the greatest vocation in the world. I get paid to read books, think about what I have read, and then tell others what I think about what I have read. I really cannot conceive of doing anything else. That is why I prefer the word “vocation” instead of “work” or “job,” both of which suggest toil and labor. In the classical sense a vocation is a “calling” and that is precisely how I envision what I do. At the end of the day I am actually foolish enough to believe that I can make a difference by educating a generation of students to join me in the task of making this world a better place. You see I really am a closet utopian. This explains why I am never satisfied with the state of things. Just ask my colleagues. Now I have just morphed into the ever-searching Faust or perhaps poor, naïve Candide. My quest for the best of all possible worlds—that illusive Utopia, Shangri-La, El Dorado—begins and ends with knowledge, and the closest I have ever come to that Nirvana is on a college campus.
Honestly, I came to history because I could never decide what field interested me most. Perhaps I did not choose history, but she chose me. In a novel way history saved me from actually having to make a choice. You see, everything, literally everything imaginable, eventually finds its place under the rubric of history—languages, art and architecture, philosophy, economics, science and medicine, engineering and technology, geography, mathematics, law, international relations and foreign affairs, music, literature, theatre and film. Everywhere I studied for the first eight years of my college life—a local community college, a private Liberal Arts college, seminary, a medium-sized urban university, a large rural state university—I kept coming back to history. Wherever I went, the most engaging, urbane, literate, and interesting people I encountered were all historians. This realization is what ultimately led me to pursue the doctoral program at Chicago where I knew history in all of its marvelous forms really mattered. I would spend five more years at Chicago. My life truly has been an intellectual Odyssey. In my World Civilization and Humanities courses I have the opportunity to put all the pieces of my life and experiences together. Throughout the year I discuss everything from Venice to Vietnam, the Burgundian code to the Bolsheviks, Herodotus to Heinlein, the Scientific Revolution to Surrealism, the Buddha to the Baroque, Aristophanes to Asimov, the U.S. Constitution to the Übermensch. The great challenge of history, of course, is to know everything about everything, to attempt something quite impossible and perhaps even suicidal, but what is life without a worthy opponent? History will continue to challenge me until the day I die, and, if my speculations are correct, long afterwards.
Favorite historical subject? Why?
Everything is grist for the historian’s mill and my appetite is legion. I definitely have a serious case of neophilia, another splendid academic ailment from which I hope to never recover. I love anything and everything new and knowable. This may be why I enjoy teaching the Humanities sequence so much. My course undergoes a metamorphosis every semester based on my most recent reads. Just last week when I introduced Dante’s Divine Comedy to an unsuspecting group of tyros, I made connections between the “Inferno,” Book 11 of the Odyssey, Book 6 of the Aeneid, and, for the first time, Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come, a contemporary novella I read over break about a man’s journey into the nether regions of the afterworld to save his wife who had committed suicide. Just as easily I might have included in the discussion the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the medieval tradition of St. Patrick’s Purgatory, or George Bernard Shaw’s “Don Juan in Hell” from Man and Superman. Are you beginning to get the picture? The String Theory of Quantum Mechanics suggests another intriguing way to describe my approach to learning. Rather than being composed of discreet particles or bits of data, knowledge consists instead of strands of energy connected to the surrounding world in incredible ways and multiple dimensions. In terms of history proper, I am just as polyphagous; I hunt and forage for anything edible. You might say historians are the ultimate hunter-gatherers of the world. From a strictly professional standpoint my most advanced training is in things medieval—paleography, hagiography, kingship and Germanic law, feudalism, ecclesiastical Latin, apocalyptic thought, Byzantine studies, scholasticism, sermon studies and exempla, vernacular literature, the Crusades, Islamic Spain, the alchemical tradition, theology, monasticism, and Gothic architecture—but I refuse to limit myself to those happy few. Ask me the same question in six months and I might mention that my newest interests are the Persian Wars, the campaigns of Alexander, the Gallic Wars, the Hundred Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, WWI and WWII, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. If, though, I had to find a final resting place for my heart, to bury it somewhere for eternity, I might choose the crypt of a medieval cathedral.
Let’s talk about your teaching philosophy. How would you describe it?
My philosophy of teaching is one of rigor and academic discipline. I often tell my students that knowledge is unbending, unforgiving, and inflexible—that the solution for c 2, the hypotenuse of a right triangle, refuses to be anything but the sum of the legs, a 2 plus b 2. Our quest for knowledge should possess the same persevering qualities as scientific and mathematical truths. I demand the best of my world and the most of myself and students. Learning can be a harsh taskmaster or demanding mistress—both are appropriate metaphors. The quest for knowledge demands sacrifice. Have I become epigrammatic here? Let me put it another way. I refuse to allow a mediocre doctor, mediocre lawyer, mediocre accountant, mediocre pilot, mediocre nurse, mediocre pharmacist, mediocre mechanic, mediocre cook, mediocre secretary, or even mediocre lawn worker to take care of me, my body, or my possessions; therefore, why should I help to produce a mediocre pre-professional in the classroom? I happen to be very old-school when it comes to academia and the scholarly life, believing the student work ethic translates directly into the professional work ethic. Learning has incredible rewards, but is not necessarily fun. I simply hate that misguided notion. The “education heads” of the world have it all wrong as far as I am concerned. Sometimes the acquisition of knowledge is just plain hard work. That we ought to always entertain our students is a ludicrous concept. The professor is not the court jester. Sublime joy is in the arriving and the knowing, but not always in the journey, no matter what Joseph Campbell says. The best proof of this is my own experience. I dedicated years as an undergraduate and graduate student developing a proficiency in ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. That, for me, was a Churchillian struggle and I wear the blood, toil, sweat, and tears of that campaign. To read Ovid, Virgil, Caesar, Cicero, St. Paul, or the Hebrew prophets in the original is a genuine joy for me now; to reach that summit was a long, arduous climb. If anyone disagrees with my philosophy of teaching, I warn that I have the massive weight of history on my side. From the Greek pedagogues to the magister of the medieval university to the Herr Professor of the 19 th-century German university, the pursuit of knowledge, the lecture hall, and the classroom scarcely changed. Consider how much the human race achieved with apparently so little—a papyrus scroll, a wax tablet, a quill and parchment, the spoken word, the lecture and the debate. From the sound of things these days I marvel how Plato ever managed without PowerPoint, fiber optic cable, and a remote mouse! Do not tell me how much students and learning styles have changed. The human brain has not evolved that much in the past 2,500 years. A truly educated individual can learn in a multiplicity of styles or just one if need be. Is that not what we ideally want of our students? That, in my opinion, is the true essence of learning—to teach students to learn under virtually any condition. I can learn from a lecture or in a group or by doing or by seeing or by whatever method you present to me. True teaching should raise students to this higher level where they can stand along side us rather than require us to stoop to meet them and in the process lose ourselves.
What’s the ultimate complement you could receive?
That someone might mistake me for a polymath. Right now I only consider myself someone who has read few books, traveled a bit, and who occasionally has a good idea or two.
What are you thoughts about the college’s learning theme of responsibility?
The theme is solid, but should be adopted universally across campus, from bottom to top, and I see only piecemeal evidence of that. If I have any reservations about the notion of a yearly learning theme, it is that the administration too needs to be held accountable for embracing it fully. If an institution promotes integrity, for instance, but lacks that virtue in taking care of its own faculty, then the game is over. Integrity and responsibility have many faces. Inconsistency can turn us into hypocrites rather quickly if we overlook even one of the faces. If the administration expects me to carry the theme of responsibility, then I expect it to be truly responsible everywhere and everyway. A recent example comes to mind, a failure in my opinion on the part of the administration. Last semester, one of my students willfully tried to break the terms of a contractual agreement I had with him, namely my syllabus. When I refused, all he had to do was have one of his parents put in a well-placed phone call high enough up the Food Chain. Of course when daddy calls, administrators generally contract a sudden fatal failure of nerve. My experience has been that institutional resolve and support for the faculty quickly wither away with one irate phone call from a “concerned” parent. I know it, my colleagues know it, and our students know it. When the school retreats in the face of this kind of inappropriate pressure, what lessons are we teaching about contracts, one’s word, obligations, duties and responsibilities?
Favorite book? Why?
I never have to struggle much with this one. My favorite book is generally the one I am currently reading. When I am in my intense reading mode, something I have been in of late, I go through one or two books a week. I definitely have a methodology to my mania, focusing on particular themes, genres, or authors for weeks or months at a time. I never read just one book by any given author. For me to come to some thoughtful opinions about a writer, I need a minimum of three books. I am not sure how much credibility I carry with anything less than that. Lately I have returned to some of the great science fiction writers of the 20 th century. I grew up reading classics by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne and have never quite kicked the sci-fi habit. Journey to the Center of the Earth, The First Man in the Moon, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and Mysterious Island are the very first books I remember reading as a boy. This past month I have worked my way through Arthur C. Clark’s Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood’s End, and The Fountains of Paradise, another of Azimov’s Foundation series, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, and I am now in the middle of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. If you want some of my more traditional favorites I would mention Umberto Eco, Orhan Pamuk, Dostoyevsky, Thomas Hardy, Tolkien, Goethe, Gogol, Aldous Huxley, C. S. Lewis, Naguib Mahfouz, Homer, Shakespeare, and Steinbeck.
Aren’t you on the curriculum committee?
Yes, and I consider it one of the most important committees on campus. The heart of our college is the body of knowledge it professes, something expressed in the collective learning of our faculty and the courses we teach to our students. Everything else is ancillary. Our mission statement ought to be only three simple words: To educate students. After all, that is the reason why students ought to come to us, to learn. Serving on the curriculum committee offers me the opportunity to help influence what we are and what I hope we can become.
If you could create a curriculum for an ideal intellectual community, what would it look like?
Hold on, this is a good one. My ideal curriculum would be an Encyclopedia Galactica of the knowable. I would begin with the Great Books of the Western World series, the grand realization of the mind and imagination of Mortimer J. Adler, one of the last true polymaths of the 20 th century and cofounder of the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago. From Homer to Freud, I would immerse every one of our students in the genius of western civilization first. Firmly rooted in that tradition, I would branch outward to all parts of the globe, to all times, and to all peoples. Two years of biology, two years of chemistry, two years of math, two years of physics, a year of astronomy, a year of logic, two years of physical geography and one of historical geography, four years of world history and humanities, two years of American history, two years of either ancient Greek or Latin, four years of a modern foreign language, four years of English grammar and composition, one year of contemporary Nobel Prize literature, one year of international relations, two years of philosophy, and two years of religion would round out the curriculum for the undergraduate degree. I am not kidding. Forget about majors; forget about graduating in four years. Specialization would come only later at the graduate level and in professional schools. Can you imagine what kind of brilliant New Atlantis we could create with such a shared intellectual, scientific, and cultural consensus?
What do you say to the student who says he or she is going to college to get a good paying job?
I would say you are in the wrong class at the wrong time with the wrong professor, and then spend the rest of the semester trying to convert him to the “Cult of the Humanities.”
In your opinion, what’s the most significant historical event and why?
That’s an easy one—whatever event I am covering in today’s lecture. Seriously, I am actually working on an article suggesting that the most significant event in the history of the human race is the invention of the bicycle; one of my enduring loves, but that would fill up a whole other issue of Directions. Let’s save that for another day.
Is it true you are referred to as the “The father of Brain Bowl”? Tell me about this group.
I think that honor actually goes to my friend and mentor Jerry Seibel who retired recently from the Business Division. He was on the hiring committee that recommended me for my current teaching position here. In my first semester on campus he drafted me to work with him as assistant Brain Bowl coach. The next year he stepped down from coaching and turned the reins over to me. I have been running with the program ever since. We went to only one tournament that first year I was assistant coach; last year we competed in nine. The program has experienced phenomenal growth and marked up some nice successes, primarily because I have been lucky enough to have some very good players come my way. Don Hunt deserves a lot of credit too because he supported me all the way as VP over the program, even through one very rocky season. My best season was the year we won the State Brain Bowl Tournament. During my tenure as coach we have come back with trophies from the Valencia Community College Fall Invitational Tournament, the Berry College Invitational College Bowl Tournament, the Gordon College Two-Year College Bowl Tournament, the Palm Beach Community College Quiz Bowl Invitational Tournament, and a good number of FCCAA regional tournaments.
I hear you are quite serious about triathlons…do tell.
I am wholly dedicated to the ancient Greek aristocratic ideal of mens sana in corpore sano, “a strong mind in a strong body.” I run, I bike, I swim, I train with weights, and generally watch what I eat. Chocolate high-protein smoothies are definitely a virtuous vice of mine. Three to five nights in the gym a week keeps me happy and at my best. I have more than 50 triathlons under my belt, mostly sprint and Olympic distance, and a good number of duathlons, a run-bike-run event, but took last year off from the sport. The past two years I have focused more on running ½ marathons, 10 and 5 kilometer races. Of the three distances, my favorite is probably the ½ marathon. I weigh a good deal more than the average endurance athlete—I tip the scales at 205 pounds and these guys are generally less than 150 pounds—so I am at a bit of a disadvantage, but, once again, what is life without a challenge or two?
tales and tips for staying
written by and for our Adjunct Faculty
Math Students:Helping Them Separate Myth from Reality
by Jerry Meyerson, Math
H aving served as an adjunct and engineering instructor in three states, I suppose I should not be surprised at the fear and anxiety that many students bring to a math and science classroom. But the fact is that I continue to be amazed at some of the ideas that I hear during the early days of a semester. Thus, the purpose of this article is to relate some of the “myths” that many of my students have brought to the mathematics classroom, and my efforts to help these students separate their preconceived notions from reality. I feel these efforts are important. While some of the expectations of the students are amusing, many create a state of anxiety that hampers performance in the course. Hopefully, some of the techniques that have worked for me will be helpful to others.
Myth # 1
Mathematics professors live in another world that normal people never see. They live in some “Twilight Zone” full of rocket trajectories, trains traveling toward each other and other obscure problems. Regular students would have a hard time asking questions because the answers would be complicated and involve some abstract concept. The professor will never know what it feels like to have to struggle with math because he/she has always found the “stuff” easy.
The fact is I have never met an instructor who sailed through school with absolutely no difficulty in math classes. I daresay the overwhelming majority of math instructors have encountered at least one or more very challenging courses.
I get interesting responses when I tell my students early on that I know many of them are afraid of the course and my imagined response to their “preconceived” poor performance. I go on to say; to the disbelief of many, I felt the same way in several of my undergraduate and graduate courses. I told them about some of my adventures in actuarial science and combinatorics classes, and my intense fear of approaching the instructor with what I surely thought were stupid questions. It took awhile, but I gradually grew to believe that most of my instructors really meant it when they said, “there are no such thing as a stupid question.” I try to allay the fears about my approachability, and some anecdotes about my very similar experiences to seem to always help.
Math professors for the most part are eccentric and lack a sense of humor. The stereotypical “absent-minded professor” was no doubt a mathematics instructor, in the view of many. The “Einstein hair style, the ill-fitting clothes, the “other world” odd behavior that many view as normal for math instructors are suggestive of an inability to communicate with the “normal” student.
One student told me her father had a math instructor come to class late the first day. Upon being told he was late, the instructor started pulling a long chain of connected paper clips out of his pocket. Attached to the end of the chain of paper clips was a very, very, small Mickey Mouse watch. He had to put the watch face very close to his eye to read it, upon which he acknowledged he was late. The student told me the first thing she looked for in my class was whether I wore a conventional watch.
All of us have some eccentricities, and odd behavior is not confined to math instructors. Yes, Einstein was considered eccentric and Richard Feynman, a renowned physicist, liked to pick locks and walk the street playing bongo drums. But Michael Moore will never win the best-dressed man award and Howard Hughes was a little bit offbeat. I make a point of laughing with my students about some of the odd things I have done. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate on occasion that their instructor is not so preoccupied that he can’t share a laugh about some amusing “normal” gaffe. Many of my married students appreciate the anecdote involving the Christmas present I bought my wife one year. It was a very beautiful, large framed painting of a collection of birds. However, the identical painting had been hanging over our couch in the living room for 18 years. But, Hey! Give me credit for knowing she liked birds.
The ability to laugh at this kind of behavior together is yet another subtle demonstration that, yes, math professors can have a sense of humor and are not by definition “unapproachable.”
I understand math and do great homework papers, but I will never do well on tests because I freeze up. I can’t tell my instructor because I will look stupid. I see everyone sitting around me going right to work while I panic at the words “a train leaves Pittsburgh at 12 noon and another train leaves New York an hour later…” I shake, I panic, my mind blocks out my every effort to work problems. If I can scrape a ‘D’ out of this course I will be ecstatic.
In fact, math test anxiety is not a myth and is real. But the feeling that nothing can be done to at least significantly ease the problem is not based on facts.
We have all heard performers or politicians say they always get butterflies in their stomachs before a concert or a speech, but once they get started the anxiety seems to go away. The same notion applies to taking a math test (or any test). An overwhelming percentage of test takers would agree that they never feel completely calm walking into an exam room. Recognizing this is a completely normal reaction is a big first step for students battling what most perceive as a problem unique to themselves. I have a handout for my students who complain that they get so up tight before tests that their performance does not come close to their actual competency with the material. In addition to accepting that a certain amount of anxiety is normal the following additional points are made in the handout.
A regular routine, repeating approach is extremely helpful both before and on test day. Professional golfers emphasize the critical importance of a routine before every shot. The same psychology applies to math test. There is something comforting about the feeling that, “Hey, I’ve done this before. This is not strange territory.”
Sports psychologists stress to their clients the importance of focusing on positive thoughts in pressure packed situations. They emphasize visualization of successful field goals that win games and 10-foot putts that go in and win tournaments. Negative images such as “I can’t do this, I’m not good enough” seem to be self-fulfilling prophecies, and most often assure failure.
Nothing builds confidence and generates positive images more than serious preparation, practice, and a measure of success, no matter how small. While most people cringe at the thought of curling up in bed with a “really good math book,” the fact is that success in tackling concepts and problems at home leads to confidence, positive visualizations, and success on test day. It may take days of practice to be able to arrive at the correct book answers on homework assignments, but the resultant surge in confidence and reduction in anxiety clearly justifies the effort.
I’ve had students tell me that they have been turned off on a math course after buying the book and recognizing very few words in the table of contents. I had one student approach me about dropping the course after opening his new book and noticing a subsection entitled “imaginary numbers.” I caution against this negative mindset early on, and explain how new concepts are built on older established concepts, and the book methodically strives to build a skill such that new concepts on the next page or chapter can be introduced. It is not helpful to turn to the Chapter 3 summary for example, without having studied chapters 1 and 2.
I don’t like math and have never done well in math, but if I get a really good instructor, I can get by without spending a lot of time on stuff I really don’t like.
Mathematics cannot be mastered by simply listening to good presentations by an instructor. Mathematics is learned by doing mathematics. I tell the class that they may understand a concept or manipulation at the end of a class, but if they don’t apply the knowledge very soon, they will find the understanding fleeting and soon gone. Applying concepts repetitiously over a large number of examples, including checking answers obtained with book answers leads to mastery. I justify the assignment of a lot of homework on the need for repetition. I further justify grade penalty for late and incomplete homework on the need for students to do math and to do it soon after introduction of new material.
In summary, I have learned over the years that running a good mathematics class involves a lot more than introducing new concepts and techniques of manipulating expressions and equations. A successful class involves being mindful of the fact that some students will enroll steeped in fear of mathematics, and very anxious about what to expect in class and from the instructors. Assuming their anxieties exist, and addressing them early on, often results in a desirable reduction in tension and more student/instructor, student/student interaction.
For the second year, the LRC has been the fortunate recipient of books carefully chosen by our book club members. Donated in December, each book is inscribed by the donor; all the books are on display in the Special Collections Room of the Library and are part of the circulating collection, so they can be checked out. Thanks everyone for such a wonderful contribution to our library!
Vertigo: A Memoir by Louise DeSalvo
Donated by Diane L. Fowlkes
P.S. also read V. Woolf, Three Guineas – excellent treatise
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Donated by Mary Ann DeSantis
“...This book is dedicated to all the students who will become what Ayn Rand called the ‘prime movers.’ May you never shrug when the world needs you, and may you always have the passion and the optimism of the heroine, Dagney Taggert.”
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Donated by Bonnie Vorwerk
“This book revived the fantasy lit genre. I loved reading it with my children! Enjoy!”
Undaunted Courage:Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose
Donated by Cash and Gwynn Pealer
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Donated by Tina Hill
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P. Feynman
Donated by Gwynn Pealer
White Political Women: Paths from Privilege to Empowerment by Diane L. Fowlkes
Donated by Sandra Cooper
The Portable Henry Rollins by Henry Rollins
Donated by SuZi
“Part of the triadic structure of my Master’s thesis was a focus on this author (oh, how nice it would be to put my hands on that essay). ...It is my hope that others find Henry (who, in person, is very charming) as enjoyable as I have all these years.”
The Madonna of 115 th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1180—1950 by Robert Anthony Orsi
Donated by Dennis Owen
Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King
Donated by Susan Bradshaw
“From the Oxford English Dictionary: VIRAGO [a. L. virago a man-like or heroic woman, a female warrior]…
2. A man-like, vigorous, and heroic woman; a female warrior; an Amazon. Now rare.”
The Woman’s Retreat Book by Jennifer Louden
Donated by Sheila Evans
“Dear Reader – If the title interests you, please read on. This is a great, fun book and it has a great bibliography too! Take an hour, a day, a week. Chill! & Enjoy!”
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Donated by Karen Jernigan
Donated by Dean Blinkhorn
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
“This book is regarded as one of the 20 th century’s finest. That it was Harper Lee’s first and only novel is nothing short of amazing...”
The Borderlands of Science: where sense meets nonsense by Michael Shermer
Donated by Ron Cooper
“Scientific hip-boots for wading through that proverbial creek.”
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Donated by Amy Mangan
“...May you consider this a gift as well.”
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Donated by Sandra Cooper
“I hope the LRC has better luck getting this back than I ever have.”
Book Club meeting dates:
2/25 PDC 1-101, 12:00-1:00
3/25 PDC 1-101, 12:00-1:00
4/29 PDC 1-101, 12:00-1:00
For more information, call Amy Mangan at ext. 1397
The Living Reed by Pearl S Buck
History becomes prophecy; this novel takes the format of historical fiction, set in Korea between 1881 and 1945 and following three generations of a family of characters Buck names Kim. Through the lives Buck paints in the anguish of a culture beset by formidable enemies (China, Russia and–most frightfully specific–Japan), divided from within by feudalism, anachronism and cultural tradition, but ever longing for a sovereignty still denied in these, our times.
Although Buck’s focus is on the details of the period, many of her observations are written with an almost casual tone as the musings of one of the characters and have a striking resonance. In the section that passes through the European war of 1917, Buck attributes the character of Il-han with the thought “though peace was the proper way of life[…]tyranny, conceived in the mind of an angry man[…] could light a fire that in some future time, joined with other minds, even such as ruled now and here in Korea, would put the whole world into darkness”(313). Despite the four decades that have passed since Buck wrote these words, the sense of dread is palpable and current.
Pearl S Buck was the first of the two American women awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and it might be viewed as an act of patriotism to read her work. Patriotism seems to be the motivating force behind Buck’s characters; characters fevered with patriotism enough to suffer foreign rule, oppression, imprisonment, torture, exile and family deaths, but with utter love of their culture and with a desire for national autonomy solidly the driving force of their lives.
Painting as Pastime by Winston S. Churchill.
Winston Churchill painted for 40 years as a diversion from his primary life’s work. Painting as Pastime is a tiny tome, in which Churchill expounds on his admiration for the French landscapists, his preference for oil over watercolor, and his travels to Avignon, Egypt, and Palestine for different light qualities in those places. It also includes several color plates of his works, in which his influences, namely impressionists and Cezanne, become evident.
The Citrus campus recently purchased a portrait of Churchill, which was donated for auction by a local county official, whose history and origins of the work are pending.
bell hooks. ain’t i a woman?, killing rage, bone black and salvation
To be honest, after reading these four titles over the winter holiday, it seemed crucial to order the two other titles of what publisher HarperCollins refers to as hooks’ Love Trilogy – as salvation is part two. hooks is unapologetically didactic, but the overarching point of her work strikes this reader as ever urgent, as relevant to each of us if we are to bridge ancestral misconduct or ancestral agony and go forth a more enlightened, humane people.
Using a writing style that moves gymnastically between sociopolitical lingo and a comfy vernacular, hooks not only drops into first person but cross references her own work. Additionally, hooks often makes careful analysis of other writers, is obviously scholarly without the formality of academic writing. At one point, hooks’ discusses her choice of language use with a sensitivity to her varied audience that reveals much about hooks herself: the stridency is born of a passionate caring.
Although hooks writes as a black woman in our current society, anyone who has ever experienced a sense of marginalization will recognize themselves at points in her text. The passages detailing the soul-destroying requirements of conventionalized masculine roles almost seem infused with heartbreak (salvation). What seems to annoy hooks the most is arrogant entitlement, yet she carefully details our internalized assumptions and exhorts us to “decolonize our minds and imaginations” (killing rage 119).
There are points in these texts where this reader laughed out loud, and there are points in these texts where I was called back to my New Orleans exhortation of “yeah, you right.” Most gratifying was hooks’ castigation of the media, calling it “the biggest propaganda machine” and further stating “mass media are neither neutral nor innocent[…]”, she beseeches us to refuse and resist media’s socialization (killing rage. 116-118).
Anyone with even the most minimal investment in self-actualization or the empowerment of others owes it to themselves to read any of hooks’ engaging and challenging work. Committed as she is to epistemologies, hooks is committed to us. It would be rude not to employ some small gratitude.