Borg’s Blog

Resistance is futile – change is constant

Whodunit?

Posted by Mark Winegar on March 5, 2009

Gabe plays detective to solve the mystery of the missing father in this episode.

Rosalie “Hotsie” Totsie turns the tables on the boys and they deserved it because of the sexual innuendos they’ve playfully tossed around. We laugh at the jokes and see the justice of her pretense but do we stop to think about the behavior of our own students?

All Rosalie wanted was to be treated like a lady. She can’t help being attractive and its not her fault testosterone rages through the bodies of her male classmates. Is she so different from the women on our campuses?

Young men need positive role models to show them how to behave properly especially when it comes to the subject of the opposite gender. I don’t believe I’m saying this – I must have gotten really old all of a sudden but there it is. Young men need someone to talk with. Their fathers aren’t on campus so they naturally migrate to those faculty members they respect. Its up to us to mentor them. It may not be comfortable but we have to be honest about our own sexuality and the lessons we’ve learned.

Remember to treat the women on campus as ladies. Open a few doors. Rise when a lady enters the room. Its contagious.

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Webinars

Posted by Mark Winegar on January 2, 2009

A webinar is essentially a meeting broadcast over the Internet. They do vary a bit in nature with some being more interactive than others. Another variable is syncronicity with some offers asynchronous viewing. Asynchronous viewing is essentially the same thing as viewing a vodcast.

How do you know whether or not to participate in a webinar. Like all presentations the things to consider are the topic and the speaker(s). What is the credibility of the speaker? How interesting is the topic to you? My hot topics now are cloud computing and Python. If Google were offering a webinar in cloud computing I’d be interesting because the joint effort between Google and Apple constitutes the most powerful cloud avaliable. Likewise I’d be interested in an O’Reilly webinar on Python because they are a leading publisher and advocate of the programming language. I would not be interested in a webinar on a new version of Windows offered by Bill Gates because I’m a Mac guy but you many would be.

So does this technology promise any radical changes in education? I’ve seen it used in the area of computational biology but I wasn’t impressed. Coordination can be cumbersome because of the synchronous nature of the presentation. Large numbers of participants often make it difficult to participate. Questions are problematic when the webinar is finished and all the players have gone home. I think asynchronous modes of transmitting information are more promising.

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Do the right thing

Posted by Mark Winegar on December 8, 2008

Gabe faces pressure to pass an academically failing athlete in this episode of Welcome Back, Kotter. I have to admit I was once faced the same challenge. It was many years ago when I taught at a community college. A key baseball player flunked my class by means of total non-participation. He was under the misunderstanding that athletes didn’t have to work to pass or maybe someone forget to tell me. The coach remembered to fill me in after the fact.

Our baseball coach was very friendly as he stood in my office doorway. He talked about what a fine young man my failed student was and how important he was to the college baseball team. He almost had me for a moment because I’m a big Cubbies fan. Then it happened. He asked me to change the grade because the school’s destiny depended on my student’s performance on the pitcher’s mound. My response was furious as I verbally threw him out of my office with instructions to never return. I thought the matter closed but I was wrong.

A few days later I was asked to come to the Dean’s office. She sat me down and started a bit of comforting small talk which turned to the fine attributes of our star pitcher and his wonderful family. Then it happened. She repeatedly asked me to change the grade with increasing levels of intensity. I finally capitulated with some conditions of my own.

I agreed to change the grade of this student if she would put her request in writing and sign it. I added that I would also change the grades of every student who had ever failed the course so we wouldn’t risk accusations of favoritism. That’s the last I heard on the matter but I also had a terrible price to pay as the Dean’s wrath was an attack on my application for tenure the following year. I won that battle too and left the school immediately thereafter.

Was doing the right thing worth the price I had to pay? Yes. I can still walk the halls holding my head high. Sure its not the same school but my career has been a richer adventure because I didn’t stay.

You can teach anywhere.

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Pointing fingers

Posted by Mark Winegar on November 15, 2008

The grumpy old vice principal becomes popular when he takes over Gabe’s history class for a day.

Today’s lesson is patience and I’m at the head of the line for instruction.

Its easy to criticize our counterparts on campus. The faculty too easily criticize the administration. The administrative staff envies the “free time” of the faculty. Its just too easy to find fault with others because our observational lenses are myopic. Before long we lose respect for others and they lose respect for us. This is no way to live.

We each have our roles to play in the educational enterprise. We each know our own jobs best. Faculty know how to teach. Administrators know how to do whatever it is they do. I’m faculty so I admit my ignorance of the work day of my Dean or the pressures he has to deal with. I need to trust that he will deal with it to the best of his ability and that should be good enough for me. We need a little more trust in each other.

So in the immortal words of the Youngbloods…

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Adding a YouTube podcast to Blackboard

Posted by Mark Winegar on October 27, 2008

Follow these simple steps to embed podcasts into your Blackboard course.

  1. Find a podcast that supports your learning objective. YouTube.com is a great source of podcasts.
  2. Preview the podcast to make sure it is what you want.
  3. Locate the embed code to the right of the miniature viewer screen.
  4. Click on the code to highlight it and then press [CTRL]-[C] to copy it into your keyboard buffer.
  5. Open up the desired content area in your Blackboard course.
  6. Click on the item icon.
  7. Press [CTRL]-[V] to insert the embed code.
  8. Enter a title if desired.
  9. Click submit to complete the update.

When you are done you will see a view window appear in your content area like the one below.

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Dreams are powerful things

Posted by Mark Winegar on October 10, 2008

Epstein’s dream of becoming a veterinarian are shattered by a left-brained guidance counselor.

We are the dream weavers. People come to us to build a better life. A few have a full blown dreams with every detail worked out while others have the seed of a dream and need help to create a plan to realize their potential. More come in search of a dream because of the dissatisfaction they feel in their lives. Our avocation is helping each and every one work toward their dream no matter where they are. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes the succeed. Sometimes the dreams change. But our job remains the same, we are the dream weavers.

It is wrong to ever discourage a student. We can point out the difficulties along the path of realization but we should never tell a student their dream is impossible because they just might prove us wrong.

I was once a kid without a dream. Then I met a Claude Beavers who had more faith in me than I did. All I wanted to do was go back to high school and get my diploma. Yes, I was a dropout. Claude challenged me to skip attending high school and enroll in college. I never found out what he was smoking but I got hooked when he made a bet with me. So I took it and enrolled at Lansing Community College knowing full well I couldn’t cut it. However, I would soon have some of Dr. Beavers’ hard earned money in my pocket. I lost the bet to my own amazement. College was fascinating. The professors were beyond interesting. I was inspired at had all A’s at the end of the first term.

Claude was the only person who believed in me and because of that I began an intellectual journey that would go far beyond a doctoral degree. I’ve been a professor, software engineer, engineering manager, and now I’m a professor again. The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is the power of encouragement.

Claude Beavers was a dreamweaver and we ought to be too.

I think Sam and Dave have something to say…

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We’re all in this together

Posted by Mark Winegar on October 3, 2008

Vinnie gets some tutoring from a brainy girl and gets harassed by the sweathogs in this episode of Welcome Back, Kotter.

Sometimes learning involves growing pains. It can be scary changing your environment and the people you hang out with and old friends may not understand. This is a time when personal mistakes may be made.

Many of my students are first generation college students. Their families are supportive of their studies but don’t understand many of the things being taught. They often find it difficult to talk with the folks back home about their studies and new lives and this can be a demotivator. I bet you have some students like this too.

As like Lou Rawls says…

This is an opportunity for mentoring. We can help students understand their conflicted worlds are really one place. Show them the commonalities are greater than the differences. And most importantly show them someone understands and cares. After all, “We’re all in this together!” (Red Green).

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Google documents: a better alternative

Posted by Mark Winegar on September 28, 2008

Microsoft has dominated the software industry since the early 1980′s and made Bill Gates one of the richest men in the world but it’s days in the sun may be numbered?

Like many educators I returned to school this year to find Microsoft Office 2007 installed on the computers my students were issued. The latest version of Office looks and feels very different from its predecessors without adding any obvious new features of value. I find it less intuitive and more difficult to work with. My situation was not good.

My first challenge was to get Office 2007 installed on my computer so I could do demonstrations in a general education course on computing. Faculty computers were not scheduled to be updated. Yes someone was asleep at the wheel! Assertiveness paid off though and I met my class the next morning with the poorly designed upgrade. However, my long-term dissatisfaction with the school’s lack of software revision management was joined by a growing dissatisfaction in Office 2007.

I often wonder why Microsoft insists on making software for the masses that is too complicated for the common man to use? There lies it’s Achilles’ heel.

Google has, I believe, a better alternative. Google Documents freely provides the basic functions of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation graphics to everyone on the Web. Their solutions are Web applications you can run on any computer connected to the Internet. They simply run in your web browser.

Here’s a dirty little industry secret. The vast majority of users only use about 10% of the functionality of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The remaining features are there for a vocal minority of power users who rarely use them anyway. So why complicate matters by including features most of us will never use? Intimidation?

Google’s software focuses on the sweet spots of functionality where the vast majority of people get their work done. The menus are sleeker and intuitive. You can easily find what you need to do and the software works more efficiently because the code is simpler. Simpler code means fewer software failures!

This is a good deal! You can get your work done without making Bill Gates any richer. Did I forget to mention you can work with files in Microsoft formats too. This means your work is compatible with all the poor suckers still running Microsoft Office!

The best part of Google Documents is the new features they got right!

First, your files are always safe because they are stored on Google’s servers which means you can access them anywhere you can connect to the Web. So you don’t have to carry the luggable laptop around the airport anymore! More importantly though is the fact your files are regularly backed up and kept safe by professional system administrators.

Second, you can actually collaborate on project files with no version control issues! I was blown away when I tested this feature.

The following podcast will show you how to get started using Google Documents.

It seems Google is leaving Microsoft in its software engineering dust!

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The Joy of Going Wireless

Posted by Mark Winegar on September 24, 2008

I’m fortunate to be teaching Computer Science at Mount Marty College because it went wireless in 2002 due to the vision of Dr. Mike Kahlke who served as Dean of Academic Affairs. It wasn’t an easy sell to the faculty who were largely cyberphobic then but he persisted. My life is so much easier because he persisted until the “laptop initiative” was in place.

Kahlke’s vision was to put a laptop computer into the hands of every student and faculty member. This meant the Computer Science department could phase out its use of labs. The students carry their lab equipment with them. They are free to work when they want without regard to lab hours. We still update computers on a regular cycle but I don’t need to justify a budget request to do it because its included in the regular students fees.

The second part of Kahlke’s vision was to create an environment where students could connect to the campus network and Internet anywhere on campus without needing to tether their computers to an ethernet drop. Wireless ethernet frees computing from spatial limitations. I can move a class out into the fresh air on a beautiful day without feeling guilty or losing access to the net!

Its not enough to have computers. You have to know what to do with them.

Classrooms needed to evolve to take advantage of ubiquitous computing power. We started a multi-year project to update classrooms along the lines of the “smart classroom” concept. These rooms feature overhead projection systems to display computer output, sound systems, VHS and DVD players.

 

The next stage is to create a virtual learning environment of the World Wide Web. We began with Blackboard course management software. Unfortunately the faculty were left to their own devices after a half-day training session on Blackboard. Our Teaching and Learning with Technology Committee offered classes but attendance was dismal. Use of the new classroom technology waxed and waned over the past 6 years but momentum grew with every cycle and avid users emerged over time. The new Web 2.0/3.0 applications such as Google docs creates greater potential to more fully realize Dr. Kahlke’s vision.

Mount Marty is ahead of most colleges in this area but there is still plenty to do. A group of early adopters must find and test new web-based technologies to see how well they impact teaching and learning. Then the solutions identified must be evangelized to the faculty. The school can transform education and prepare millennial students for a digital world with just a little more effort.

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Design for simplicity

Posted by Mark Winegar on September 23, 2008

I am a Star Trek junkie like so many people of my generation. This is not a bad thing though as the series provides some remarkable role models. Captain James T. Kirk and Lean Luc Picard offer great examples of leadership. No one better exemplifies living logically than Spock. My favorite Star Trek character though is Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott. It is he who served me well as a role model in my personal journey through engineering leadership. Any success I may have had is due to the wonderful people who worked on my teams and this role model. I had the distinct pleasure of telling James Doohan how important his character was to my own career once.

My favorite Star Trek scene is from the feature film The Search for Spock. Scotty is on the bridge as the Enterprise NC-1701 is stolen. The Excelsior tries to pursue her but fails to engage transwarp speed. Scotty proudly remarks “the more they overtake the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain.” This is so true.

Listen to David Pogue as he talks about the current state of computer technology and the need for simplicity in design.

Why is it so many new products fail to satisfy the needs of their users? Engineers talk to other engineers too much and to real people far too infrequently. Its easy to get out of touch. The real joy of the work is in seeing the joy your work brings to your customers but who takes time and care to notice? Darn few!

Apple Corporation has had wild successes doing just what the competition didn’t anticipate. When competitors notice Apple’s success they move to emulate it but Apple has moved onto the next innovation by then. They can’t keep up. Apple’s secret is a witch’s brew of imagination and observation. They watch real people doing what comes naturally to them. Voodoo has brought us wildly colored computers because someone noticed people decorating their computers to distinguish them from every other computer in their environments. Black magic brought the iPod because Apple engineers noticed so many people were jogging with a walkman strapped to them. Again and again Apple innovates while the pack emulates.

That’s not the only secret of Apple’s success. The other is keeping design simple. David Pogue gave some excellent examples of that in his talk.

And like Spock says -

Do “live long and prosper.”

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