Follow the money

I hate to say it but over the last few years I’ve become more focused on who is making money when certain decisions are made and how that influx of cash might cause people and companies to behave in different way to protect that income. In short – I’m seeing a lot of people and companies choose monetary gain over what they may know and advocate for as “good things”.

In her book “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism” Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble addresses this topic head-on in the introduction and first chapter by pointing out that the racist and sexist results in our search engines “…reflects a corporate logic of either willful neglect or a profit imperative that makes money from racism and sexism” (p. 5). Neither is a positive view. Safiya argues corporations are either willfully neglecting the racist and sexist tendencies of the algorithms they created and make money from, or they are intentionally making money off of proliferating racist and sexist search results. Either way – they know what is happening and they are complicit.

Safiya goes on to point out that “…[she keeps her] eye on complicating the notion that information assumed to be ‘fact’ (by virtue of its legitimation at the top of the information pile) exists because racism and sexism are profitable under our system of racialized capitalism” (p. 32). I had never heard the term before and it’s one I’d like to dig into more deeply. If you have resources you’d like to share about this – please send them my way.

Safiya’s attention to how private companies are marketing themselves as a “…public resource even though it is a multinational advertising company” (p. 50) is a reminder that both profit and public good cannot co-exist equally as motivating factors for the strategic decisions of that company. Perhaps what was most scary for me was her explanation of the impact this has on our ability to critique these systems.

“What this critique shows is that the privatization and commercial nature of information has become so normalized that it not only becomes obscured from view but, as a result, is increasingly difficult to critique within the public domain” (p. 51).

I have to admit, by the end of chapter one I was already starting to feel nauseous about how big this problem is. However, Safiya’s intelligence, focus, and tone in her description of these issues and the work she has done to research them, reminds me to have hope because there are people like her in the world doing this work. I look forward to reading more of what she has to say, and working hard to amplify her voice.

Meet them where they are

I’m getting skeptical about workshops. Although people often ask for them, the attendance is rarely fantastic and unless you get very lucky, they are usually offered at the wrong time for 75% of your audience. In Jill Leafstedt’s Educause article “Personalized Faculty Development: Engaging Networks and Empowering Individuals” she points out and develops two themes she saw reflected in the faculty development and engagement track at ELI: the importance of networks for ongoing learning, and meeting faculty where they are. The article outlines the strengths of a consultancy (rather than workshop-based) approach when working with faculty that I have also found to be the key to assisting faculty in a transformative way.

My biggest takeaway from this article was this:

“The consultancy approach allows instructional designers to lead from a place of inquiry and empathy. Taking the time to understand the goals and fears of the faculty enables you to develop an approach that works with the individual faculty or faculty team. Although this method is not quick and can be messy, it is effective.”

Empathy by Sharon Sinclair on Flickr:

Coupling inquiry and empathy allows an instructional designer the space to really listen and respond to a faculty member’s concerns and areas of greatest need. In my experience, this is where the best ideas and brainstorming develop. Being able to repeat back to a faculty member the problem that they described and a method or tool that might address that problem is where we have often developed the deepest understanding of the challenges being posed. This process makes it less possible for me to assume I know the best solution and that I fully understand the problem, and reinforces a collaborative problem solving relationship.

In the discussion of networks Leafstedt talks about the importance of choice for faculty in deciding how deeply they want to and can engage in a topic at any one time. She advocates for providing flexibility in not only depth of participation but also access points for the material. Again she emphasizes the theme of meeting faculty where they are and providing resources, support, and conversations to help develop from that place.

Leafstedt’s discussion of faculty development is refreshingly real-to-life. It is one of the first articles that I have read that does not shy away from the impact that limited time resources has on these interactions and inquiries. She addresses both the messiness and unbound possibilities of empathetic and curious collaborations between faculty and instructional designers.


Managing a WordPress Site Redesign

In the fall of 2017 Professor of Anthropology David Stoll contacted me about what could be done to redesign his professional web presence to make it appear more up-to-date. Professor Stoll’s web site is hosted on Middlebury’s WordPress server and utilized a theme called Ocean Mist. There were a few problems with this theme but the primary one was that it was not responsive. This caused related issues with mobile compatibility and menu functionality.

Publications Web Site
Original Publications Web Site Design

The first step in the process was to create a mock-up site where I could develop a prototype of what Professor Stoll’s site could look like. I have a Middlebury WordPress site that I can use for this purpose. I then asked Professor Stoll for permission to export his content and import it into the prototype site. Once the import was complete I set to work making changes. Changes included:

  • Changing the theme to Accelerate
  • Redesigning the menu to utilize a widget location (right sidebar) vs. a horizontal orientation
  • Include existing mountain image as both the header and the background to maximize the expansiveness of the image
  • Making contact information interactive (clickable link and email link)
  • Adding bio link to the menu to redirect to faculty information on the web site
  • Convert NextGen gallery (outdated) into a WP Custom Links gallery functionality
  • Enabled JetPack to utilize gallery functionality and provide the Professor Stoll with the ability to track web stats

The next step was to share the prototype with Professor Stoll so that he could offer feedback and suggestions. Beyond adding content, the professor was pleased with the site redesign so we arranged a time when it would be convenient to make the changes to the live site and moved forward. The end result can be viewed here.

Environment Scans

Environment scans have always interested me since I’ve had repeated experiences of people suggesting doing or getting something that we already have and use. Knowing the lay of the land is a critical component of being able to think and act strategically as it gives you an idea of what is robust – and what is lacking. This week I found a nice description of the process and significance of conducting a thorough environment scan in a digital humanities context.

The article is titled “First Things First: Conducting an Environmental Scan” by E. Leigh Bonds. The scan was conducted at a large R1 institution (The Ohio State), however the methods and strategies that Bonds used in conducting the scan could be employed at a variety of institutions. Also – although the focus was on digital humanities, I found that several different contexts could re-purpose this work to determine what we have and what we need to be successful in many different types of initiatives.



Registration Delay and Instructors for Labs & Lecture

First in a series of “What I’m reading” posts these are articles I’m working my way through in the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (JoSoTL).  Here are the highlights for me:

    • “Registration Delay and Student Performance” – interesting assumption “The amount of time a student delays in registering for a course is a measure of diligence that in turn correlates with his/her final mark.” Limited application at MCUG.
    • “Does it Matter if Students Have the Same Instructor for Lecture and Lab Sections? An Analysis of Introductory Biology Students” – spoiler alert – no it doesn’t matter. Interesting article b/c of focus on liberal arts college. This piece caught my eye: “Finally, one cannot ignore fear as a motivating factor. Tenured professors have less to worry about if they let their attention to a single lab section slide than does an adjunct teacher whose career advancement may depend heavily on proving that he or she can teach his or her only lab section effectively. Notably, there was only one instance in which a professor’s perceived effectiveness in the labs dropped, and this drop occurred the year after the professor was granted tenure.” (p. 11)

My takeaways:

  • Would be interesting to see the impact of late registrations due to delayed add/drop timelines impacts student learning.
  • Research in the 2nd paper looks like professor H made a significant improvement in his/her teaching. Would be interesting to track these metrics for a longer term and wider range of faculty.


Home Directory Migration Project

In the Fall of 2016 Information Technology Services with support from the Academic Technology Group set to work on a huge project: migrating 20+ terabytes of storage from on-campus network servers to the cloud. Perhaps one of the most onerous pieces of this project as well as the biggest opportunity (always be positive!) was that it had to be done by each individual user. My role in this project was largely to view the transition (and support it) for the academic side of the “house”. One of the first proactive steps I took was to reach out to Assistants to VPs in Old Chapel to explain the project, provide assistance in their transition so that they could then provide assistance to the Administrators. During this session, I was reminded of the importance of making all sorts of connections at the college and always being open to suggestions and opportunities for improvement. As we were finishing the session several of the assistants pointed out that the best way to get this information to the faculty would be through the Faculty Chairs meeting. I gladly took them up on the suggestion and was thrilled when they fit me onto their next meeting agenda.

What followed was more meetings, appointments, one-on-one and group sessions to help everyone move their data, answer questions, troubleshoot issues, and sometimes – just serve as a sounding board for frustrations. It was a big task for many and being able to provide adequate support was sometimes a challenge. I lead an initiative to provide in person group trainings by designing a web site very similar to the one that we used to launch Canvas. The Home Directory Migration web site provided users with a way to access documentation, review frequently asked questions, and sign up for work sessions.

Home Directory Migration
Home Directory Migration

Canvas Launch Initiative

When the College decided to transition from Moodle to Canvas as our learning management system (LMS), we knew that a unified communication and training plan would need to be put in place quickly. My role in this effort was to take the relevant information from the pilot and the most important communication points for the launch and aggregrate that data in one place. Hence our Canvas WordPress site was born.

I designed this site with the user in mind and considered what the most sought after pieces of information would be. The site included a section to request a consultation on Canvas, tips to avoid student confusion, ways to request help with migrating a Moodle course to Canvas, as well as a registration link for Canvas training sessions. The training sessions proved to be very popular and I was able to alter training content and presentation order based on the response of earlier training session (an example of putting formative feedback into action!).

As the transition drew to a close my next to final step was to transition any help info into our ITS Wiki so that content was fully searchable for users. Soon we will take the WordPress site offline as the last of our “transitioners” finish their migrations.

Tech Hurdle #1: Moving your iMovie Project

Students are often assigned video storytelling projects using iMovie or choose to use iMovie for multimedia projects because it is familiar to them. It has a somewhat lower bar in terms of ease of use over Premiere – however iMovie projects are also far more challenging to move from one computer to another. This becomes a significant hurdle for students who do not have their own Mac laptop with iMovie installed. In these cases – as well as for back up purposes – it is essential to understand how you can “bundle” your project so that it can be moved to different storage locations.

I’ve created the screencast below to walk you through this process. It was created on 10/18/17 for iMovie version 10.1.7. Closed captions are available for your convenience.

WordPress Designs and Event Management

Over the course of my time in the Academic Technology Group at Middlebury I became the go-to person for helping CTLR and faculty in general to set up event registration sites in WordPress. Since these opportunities began to present themselves to me in more and more frequent consistency I began to use them as a way to test out the configuration settings on new themes activated on our Middlebury server. This process both helped me to more fully understand WordPress functionality as well as the ways in which themes can be used to manipulate and display content in a variety of ways.

I think this process has been successful as I find myself being sought out by more faculty members who are interested in sharing their programming more widely. I’m hopeful that my work is helping to make it easier for more faculty to hear about more programming options outside of their departments and divisions. Below is a showcase of the sites I’ve created so far. You can click on each option to view the live site.

CTLR Programming Events Site
CTLR Programming Events Site
John Tallmadge Workshop Page
John Tallmadge Workshop Page
Science of Learning in Action Institute
Science of Learning in Action Institute
Grading and Assessment to Promote Deep Learning
Grading and Assessment to Promote Deep Learning
Anne Trubek: Writing for the Public
Anne Trubek: Writing for the Public
Intentional Pedagogy, Intentional Teaching
Intentional Pedagogy, Intentional Teaching
Beyond the Academy: Writing Your Book for a Wider Audience
Beyond the Academy: Writing Your Book for a Wider Audience
Promoting Student STEM Skills Through Inquiry Instruction
Promoting Student STEM Skills Through Inquiry Instruction
Teaching and Writing Retreat
Teaching and Writing Retreat


Support as Project Management

In the summer of 2017 I was asked to serve as the “point person” for Professor Kirsten Hoving’s DLA project “Land and Lens“. Since this was my first time serving in this role, we pretty much set the rules as we moved along. My first role was one I had performed earlier in the year when I matched Kirsten with a digital media tutor named Kristin Richards ’17 who assisted in the design and customization of the WordPress site for the project. Since Kristin graduated in May, we needed to find another tutor to help Kristin as she finished her project. Rachel Kang ’19 easily stepped into this role and did a fantastic job.

Project Tracking for Land and Lens
Project Tracking for Land and Lens

Kirsten asked to meet on a weekly basis where we would review progress on the site, questions about the design/development, to-do items, etc. As the meetings took place I found myself serving in a quasi-project manager role as I helped to determine what work needed to happen where, who we needed to contact about what, and what were reasonable goals to attain within the following week. This was all tracked within a Google sheet where Rachel could check off items as they were complete. This became especially important as we changed the URL for the site which resulted in a lot of broken links and various other minor issues. They were not difficult fixes to complete, but it did require a tracking mechanism to make sure each one was addressed.

The final project is featured as a part of a museum exhibition described here.

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.