Ms. Meta: Blogging about Blogging

The idea of being system administrators of our own digital lives discussed in the Campbell and Chambers pieces holds such amazing promise.  What I want to know is, does it deliver? and the answer for me so far has been, not so much. I had space on a static website when I came to UMW in 1999. I posted my CV, course syllabi, and some personal information and pictures of my family.  I’ve had two previous blogging experiences — one personal and one professional. I like to blog; I like to write — I start out strong, but then eventually run out of time and steam and the blog suffers. The point of debragump was to blog about running, keep track of my progress and interesting (ahem…) insights, and also offer a place to encourage people to join me.  People liked to contribute where they had seen me all over town, also. I posted approximately once a month for several months, which died down to once a month, and then not at all for several years. (Of  course, it should also be noted that my running has lost steam over time — but no matter).

I also had a blog for my URES course, which was effective for the purpose (to store general information about the project, research archives, and a bibliography) but the students I was working with — who asked for the blog — didn’t post anything, and it remains now merely a repository, should anyone ever be interested in that project.

Likewise I started out strong with intentionalsocioology.org.  Best of intentions! I really wanted to get the word out there, post examples of intentional sociology, try to get a movement going (maybe my expectations were too high…).  Life intervened: my husband had a stroke, and I found myself with no free time at all to blog (I did think about a stroke progress blog, for all those with questions — “Hey, look at the blog for updates!”, but I decided he might not appreciate that). Finally, I guess one can say that I run — rather ineptly — the UFC wiki.

The promise of blogging (and DoOO)  — and what I can do with it — also reminds me of learning how to use Qualitative Research data analysis software system (like Dedoose) in graduate school while writing my dissertation. Presumably the programs have improved over the years (I do statistical analysis right now), but in the past QRM involved reading through hundreds of pages and coding using color schemes, notes, etc. Some sociologists just literally cut and pasted strips of paper (or did the same within a WP program, which is what I did). It seemed such a process could be automated, but whenever I looked into a program it never seemed to reduce my workload any further, then what I was currently doing — looking for and marking patterns.  It was a different holding system for the same process, although it probably would have made searching for key words easier.

What does it bring me? Why is it worth the investment? The point is, others have the same questions, maybe our student do, maybe everyone does. We were asked to think about blogs we would model ourselves after — one example I love is Philip Cohen’s blog “Family Inequality.” He blogs daily about demographics and political arguments related to the family. It serves as both an objective reporting of sociological information and a political platform decrying the family value objectives of less scrupulous researchers. It’s also just a great place to go as a source of information.

To make this work for me, I’d have to blog every other day, probably, but I can barely manage to do what I need to do now — teach, run, manage my department, keep meals on the table, take my husband to his doctor visits. How do I find time to blog also? I have discrete chunks of time, and everything happens with an immediacy: what must be done right now (and NOT because I am a procrastinator.  I need that time to just noddle around and learn new things. But trying to find the time, even imagining trying to do this, makes my head hurt.

 

MOOCs and me

The more I read through discussions and critiques of MOOCs, the more I can’t help thinking about the first course I taught. I had absolutely no business teaching that course.  It was – and I was — in retrospect, abysmal. I was 21 years old and had only an undergraduate degree, but the chair of the university was desperate. I won’t tell you what school it was. I was paid $1000 (in 1988). I was assigned to each introduction to sociology, and this is how I taught it:

The course already had a text assigned. I don’t recall which one, but it was a standard introductory sociology text book such as Henslin or Schaeffer produce. It came with redi-made transparency slides, and a test bank. If we had used Power Point at the time, I probably would have had those redi-made lectures as well.  Every week (it was a night course), I read through three or four introductory textbooks, and cribbed lecture notes using the elements of each book that weren’t as thoroughly covered in the book I was using, so as not to repeat what students had read.  I was terrified, so I made lots of (in retrospect) terribly uninteresting points, and then I proceeded to read them, night after night, for fifteen week. There was almost no discussion. Students didn’t ask many questions (there were about fifty students in the class; many of my students were older than I was, some were working class, many were returning college students). For exams, I used the test bank to randomly generate three 100-item multiple choice questions, used a scantron, and then had them machine graded.  That was it.

The thing was, I got pretty good evaluations. People listened, and wrote down what I said. I learned a few more things about sociology once I got to grad school, and many more things about pedagogy, so I realize now how horrible that experience must have been for students (and think I’ve improved as an instructor since then).  Students, including those at the school where I teach, have more empowered to critique their education than they used to be. And that’s a good thing.

I realize there are a lot of differences between what I did, and what MOOCs, or even regular on-line courses, are trying to do. I realize that MOOCs are purportedly taught by dynamic teachers  – the “best” lecturers at their schools – and are at least far more entertaining than I was. But what that early experience taught me is that students, especially those at large state schools, and especially those with very little clout or experience voicing their concerns, will put up with a lot of crap without complaining about the quality, content, or methodology of their learning experiences.

And that worries me as we get further into this “experiment.”

My new blog

Launching the blog today: a blog to talk about teaching, research, community, and other ways to practice sociology intentionally.

Like an intentional community, intentional sociology is a project where people strive together with a common vision. Intentional Sociology is the idea is that one intentionally “does” sociology each and every day, not just in research publications, teaching in the classroom, or public sociology forums. Intentional Sociology is inspired by my colleagues and students at UMW, who are engaged in amazing activitism and research in their communities, including the university. Intentional Sociology is public, digital and in your face