Monday, September 29, 2008

Tsali weekend

Amazing view
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
This past weekend I went on a weekend trip to Tsali, NC organized by Team Green. The group rented five cabins for four days. The area is a mecca for kayakers and mountain bikers, but I ended up just hiking.

On Friday we did a short hike along the Appalachian Trail up to Wesser Bald. At the top of the bald is a fire tower with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. The photo here was taken on the tower. That evening, our fine chef made individual pizzas. (No, we didn't hire a chef; one of our cabin mates loves to cook and is really good at it.)

On Saturday we took on a more challenging hike. At this point I should back up and explain how little sleep I was running on. Our cabin had 17 people staying in it, and somehow it became the party cabin. Thursday night I was never able to fall asleep at all, and Friday night I only managed three hours. So come Saturday, I really had no business tackling a hike that gained 3000 feet over five miles. But no way was I going to be left behind. We planned to hike up the Bartram Trail, which connects to the AT. Once reaching the AT, the idea is to walk another half mile or so to Cheoah Bald.

The trail started off with some confusion, as there were quite a few side trails, but eventually we found the right path and started plowing straight uphill. I thought I was going to die. (And I'll admit it, I was the slow one on this trip.) Eventually the incline moderated as the trail followed Ledbetter Creek, which had many small cascades and moss-covered boudlers. After we crossed an ATV road, the trail once again went relentlessly up. It didn't stop until we reached the bald, where we found ourselves in a mist with no view. Going down, of course, was faster, although not easier for everyone - I'm lucky that my knees are good. By the end, we were thrilled to have completed what we called "Satan's run."

We planned to do a little paddling on Sunday, but no one felt motivated enough to make time for it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What students like

A news story caught my eye the other day about student preferences for online versus in-person class lectures. Interesting, I suppose, but it leaves me wondering, "So what?"

What students like has no business driving what institutions provide. I don't mean to suggest that student preferences can or should be entirely ignored; to quote Derek Bok in Beyond the Ivory Tower, "Students do not have much power to initiate policy directly. Nevertheless, they do exert considerable influence on policy - not so much by collective action but by their ability not to attend institutions they do not like and to force changes in curriculum and teaching methods by the slow, silent pressure of apathy and disapproval."

However, students are not customers but clients, which is a crucial distinction. Customers buy whatever they want, and sellers rush to provide it. Clients, on the other hand, may request things that are bad for them, but the service provider has a professional obligation not to provide it. Consider attorneys: They ought not break the law if that's the only way to get their clients off. Nevertheless, having contractually obligated to provide services, they ought to follow through to the best of their abilities. That's why one hires an attorney; he or she is supposed to know better than I do what the situation calls for. Attorneys that don't have a hard time finding clients.

Education professionals similarly owe their students what they have contracted to provide, which may vary by institution. (Perhaps it is training in how to do a certain job; perhaps it is to build character while teaching a variety of cognitive skills.) What drives the choice of teaching technologies should be "what works," not what students enjoy. Student enjoyment only delimits the choices - to those that don't cause students to drop out or fail to enroll in the first place. Student enjoyment may also have a place where technological choices are equally effective. In between these two extremes, questions of convenience and taste are beside the point.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Florida State University: Assistant or Associate Professor of Higher Education

Harvard University: Open rank, open specialty.

Bridge buiding

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I spent the weekend with a group of volunteers helping to build a bridge on the Cumberland Trail. The 70-foot bridge spans Possum Creek and will make crossing the creek possible during wetter seasons.

We spent most of the first day carrying fiberglass boards in from an access point. This was done in relay teams, with two people carrying a board for roughly one-tenth of a mile to the next team. On the second day, some folks assembled crosspieces that hold the railings, others blazed trail, and my group loaded bridge parts on a zip line down the gorge.

We got a lot of work done and actually came out ahead of schedule, which was terrific.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting to who

As an undergraduate, I didn't place any importance on the fact of who wrote the book or article we were reading, except in a few kinds of courses. I was an English major, and in our literature courses the relevance of the author seemed self-apparent. The only other class where I can remember paying attention to this was a philosophy course, and my reasoning was probably similar: This is a course where you read the big works of important (mostly dead) people.

Why not in the rest of my courses? Because they were "just textbooks." In some cases, this was in fact true, but to my undergraduate mind a scholarly book about the development of the Gatling gun was in the same category as the heavy, glossy, intro to physical anthropology text.

This way of thinking makes perfect sense up until college. In high school, everything you are assigned to read is in a textbook, except in some English classes. The author of a textbook disappears behind "objective facts"; it's the job of a textbook author to pass on received wisdom, not make novel arguments. One geometry textbook differs from another in its pedagogical approaches, not in the theorems within.

In graduate school in the social sciences,* authors are radically important, except in the case of some quantitative methodology texts such as introductory stats. Almost everything you read is a scholarly argument for looking at things in a particular way, not a rehash of the known. Once you have a firm grounding in your field, the author's name will usually tell you more than the work's title does.

By the time you get to be a faculty member, the centrality of the author seems self-evident. As an undergraduate you'll see glimpses of this, when Professor Smith says to read chapter 5 in Jones. And the students are slightly baffled by this, thinking, "Why can't he just call it the green book? Or 'American History Since the Civil War'?" Because the author's name is seen as irrelevant - yes, less important than the color of the book!

This is one of the disconnects between the faculty way of thinking and the student way of thinking that seems to affect almost all students, not just the underprepared ones. (After all, that's how we think in ordinary life, too - referring to "that article in Harper's", not to "the latest Malcolm Gladwell piece.") It is a disconnect I've never seen addressed. No one explains to undergraduates the difference between a textbook and other kinds of (modern, non-fiction) texts used in the classroom. No one tells them why authors matter. It's simply assumed. Then when students go on to graduate studies, they struggle to learn this lesson by osmosis, leading to a great deal of frustration on everyone's part.

* Certainly in the humanities too, minus the statistics books. I'll leave it up to the scientists to say how it is in their fields.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fall Creek Falls adventure

A confession: I have posted absolutely misleading pictures with this entry. These photos are serene and majestic, not to mention absolutely unlike the experience of this trip.

We planned to hike a series of short hikes around Fall Creek Falls, which is supposed to be one of the nicest state parks in Tennessee. Our day started with the Cable Trail, a steep descent down rocks to the bottom of the creek. As the name suggests, there is a steel cable to hold onto. The view at the bottom is of Cane Falls, pictured here. Of course, what goes down must come up, and the trip up is a bit more strenuous. Most of us had made it up when a large snake slithered across the path - I didn't see it but those who did guessed it was poisonous because of its triangular head.

We next headed out on the wooded PawPaw Trail. Its biggest claim to fame is a series of overlooks, although the one we ventured out to was too overgrown for views. I was loitering at the back of the group. About halfway in to the hike, we heard screams from the front. All we could clearly make out were "bees" and "run." Those at the front ran forward, and we at the back stopped. "I'm not going on," I announced. Wimpy? You bet. (Mind you, I wasn't planning to ruin anyone else's fun - I was ready to head back myself.) Lauren and Kay reassured me that we'd be fine when they suddenly changed their tune. The flying menaces were actually chasing us down the trail and we ran for several hundred yards before we were free. It seems there was a yellowjacket nest right in the trail, and the thumping of our boots had provoked them to attack. We did turn back and eventually met up with the rest of our group; many people were stung multiple times.

A lunch break settled us all down, and then we set out for Fall Creek Falls. The trail goes over a wobbly suspension bridge before coming to some overlooks. This photo shows Fall Creek Falls from one of them. We then took another steep trail downhill - not quite as steep, but actually more elevation change - to the bottom of the falls. The return trip mostly retraced our steps until the end, when we went by the Cascades. This is small waterfall where the water stairsteps down into a series of pools. Several of us took the opportunity to slide down the last cascade and generally frolic in the pools. It was a great way to finish off the hike.

If you want to see photos of bees, snakes, shenanigans, and general frolicking, you'll have to visit my Flickr site, Dave's Flickr site, or the event page.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Car resolution

The dealership called me yesterday afternoon to tell me my car was ready. The serpentine belt had not fallen off at all, but I was out of refrigerant, which had caused the air conditioning to turn off. They weren't certain why the car had died; it started up fine for them - maybe something about the compressor. Moreover, they couldn't find the leak. (And a leak it had to be - my oil had been changed 1000 miles ago and all fluids topped off.)

I got on the freeway to drive home, and after about a mile the air conditioning quit. At the next exit I pulled off and called the dealership. They told me to come back. I didn't feel like stalling out on the freeway, so I took back roads. Under the hood the engine was making a rattling noise. Then at the last traffic light, my brakes stopped working. The emergency brake worked, but the car stalled and wouldn't start. I rolled it around the corner and called the dealership again. A manager and a tech came out, and after about 20 tries it started and barely made it back. (I chose to walk.)

So now I was out of coolant, but again they said they couldn't find the cause of the leak. This time the theory was water in my gas tank - the gas light had just come on. I went to the gas station across the street (prices having gone up 30 cents from when I first came in to pick up the vehicle) to fill up. Not exactly feeling secure, I moved my car forward a few feet after fueling. The car was leaving a trail, much like a slug.

I took it back to the dealer, even though they were closing. They were suspicious it was nothing - some coolant had spilled when they refilled it, and they thought it was just the spill dripping. Still, the manager grabbed a master tech who was on his way out to look. After just a few minutes, using no tool more advanced than a flashlight, he figured it out.

A clamp on a hose had broken. When the car was cool, after sitting for a while, nothing happened. But after driving a while pressure would build up and the fluid would leak. All they had to do was replace the clamp.

And why didn't the first two mechanics to look at it notice this?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Unexpected adventures

This afternoon I went to a talk given by the dean of Michigan's College of Ed. I planned to go to a new yoga class at my gym afterwards, not realizing how long the talk was supposed to do. Then a friend sent me a message saying a group was going to Climb Nashville, and would I like to join them? Well, sure. So I drove home to change.

On the way home my a/c suddenly shut off. Uh-oh, I thought. Last time this happened a my drive belt had fallen off, my car stopped dead at a traffic light, and then had to be towed. But this time my car continued to drive just fine. So I decided to head out to the climbing gym.

Halfway there I get a call telling me the gym is closing early tonight, so they're going for a walk instead. I change course and head for the new meeting spot. As I'm sitting at a light by campus, take one guess what happened. Right, my car died. Luckily, once traffic cleared I was able to coast in to a parking lot. A cop helped push me a little farther in.

My friends agreed to come meet me, and I called a Kia to arrange a tow truck. My roadside service had expired, as had my warranty, so I had to pay for it. Meanwhile, a couple of people from my department wandered by and stopped to see if all was well. My friends show up, and then the company Kia had arranged called. At this point it becomes clear they are not a tow company; they thought I needed a jump. (I'm not sure what part of "push 1 if you need a tow truck" followed by me pushing 1 was unclear.) I call Kia back and have to wait an hour for the truck to show. Thankfully my friends waited and gave me a ride home.

Tomorrow, I find out how much the repairs will cost.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Break time

Out of the last four days, I went to tough yoga classes on three. (The other, I went on a 6-mile hike.) My body is begging for mercy at this point. I was going to drag myself to class at the gym tonight, because it was probably going to be that teacher's last class before she moved back to LA, but it was canceled. My body appreciates that!

Now I can stay home and work in a comfy chair.


Appalachian State: Assistant/Associate Professor.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I see I haven't yet posted on what my new dissertation topic is. So, in a nutshell, the dissertation will be on the effectiveness of boards of trustees at private colleges and universities.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I just found out that I had a journal submission accepted. It's both exciting and anticlimactic, since the result wasn't a surprise - it had been through two revisions but fairly superficial ones. (Example: change % to per cent.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When boards abdicate

One story that's been making news the last few weeks is the community college president who was fired for kegging it up with students. The board knew about the incident but didn't fire him until a photo of him made the rounds of the internet; the photo in question shows him pouring a keg of beer into a female student's mouth. You can see the photo along with a thoughtful blog post here.

There's a lot that's appalling about this case - since I'm studying boards, the board's blind eye comes to mind, but let's not forget the president himself. What really caught my attention, though, was a quote from a board member about letting the president's "personal life" remain personal.

Personal life? When you're a college president interacting with your students, you're on the job. That's not your personal life.

That means that while in some cases drinking with students might be OK, the president should have no expectation of privacy. (Those cases? The school allows alcohol. The students are of age. Drinking is being modeled responsibly - this does not include pony keg chugging.) And the board should recognize this.

Judging from other information, though, this was a board that long ago became a closed system existing to protect the president, abdicating its responsibility to lead the institution, which includes assessing and monitoring the CEO.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Conference woes

Conference travel can be a real pain. When choosing a site, conference planners have to balance ease of travel against hotel prices (among other things), and neither result is very satisfactory. AERA is always in mega cities - it has to be because of its size; the conference sessions are spread out over half a dozen hotels. And there are always lots of flights in and out of places like New York, San Diego, etc. ASHE, on the other hand, tends to be in more affordable places, but flights are scarcer.

I'm trying to book my flights now for ASHE and not finding anything satisfactory. My presentation is at 1 the first day (not a primo slot), so I need to be there by then. I can take my chances by flying direct on Southwest that morning and arriving at 10:20, if all goes well. Or I can play it safe and go in the night before. My travel money will extend to cover that.

It's the way home that is more difficult. The last session ends around 6, but the last Southwest flight is at 4:30. I'd just skip the last couple of sessions, except there is one at 3 that I really want to, nay, need to attend. (I'm on the job market, so I have to be Visible.) No one else flies direct. But the layover is nothing compared to the cost - over $500 is the cheapest round-trip that leaves in the evening. That my travel money will not extend to.

Not everyone at ASHE is coming from Nashville, of course, but I suspect many attendees are having these sorts of issues. Jacksonville isn't a major business or travel market. Last year's site, Louisville, was similar.

My final option is to fly Southwest but to fly in a day early and leave a day late. My travel funds won't quite cover it, although the extra is small enough for me to swallow.

ETA: I found a solution that is somewhat cheaper and allows me to depart after the last session. I just have to fly Jacksonville to Detroit to South Bend to Cincy to Nashville, arriving 13 hours after I depart. Now that's a winning solution.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Stones River Battlefield hike

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
I decided to go for a hike today at Stones River National Battlefield. I picked it rather randomly - perhaps in my subconscious it is associated with three-day weekends. It wasn't a great hike.

You can see a map here. The hike starts at the upper left corner of the trail and heads down and right, around the outside of the auto loop. It then crosses the road and wanders around inside the loop before crossing back over again. Somehow I got lost on the inside portion and ended up going around in a big circle, adding a couple of miles to the hike.

The book wasn't much help, in part because it was outdated - I don't have the latest edition. Apparently the trail used to be called the Five Mile Trail, but the park service materials currently don't use that name. (Well, that was a dumb name for a 3.6 mile-long trail.) The map also wasn't very good, not showing side trails and major landmarks. In any case, at one point I was supposed to come to "an open trail bordered by a split rail fence" with the visitor center across the fence. Instead, I came across a different open field with an intersection, which means that either an important detail was left out of the description or that things had changed much. My left turn I made then was the mistake that led to my wrong loop. But coming around the second time, I still couldn't see where I was supposed to go. I found the field, but not how to get to it.

The Park Service wasn't helpful either. The online map differs from the one I picked up at the ranger office (after the hike, alas). Both fail to show a lot of side trails. (The regulations forbid you to hike non-official trails, but since the trails aren't marked, how are you supposed to know which way is official?) Moreover, the trails were blazed only in some section and never had name signs.

Once I got back on track the hike got rather sucky. There ceased to be a trail in most places, with the route consisting of crossing over open fields and mown strips by the road. If I'd just had the Park Service map, I'd have thought I was in the wrong place and looked for a real trail; it was only the guidebook that let me know I wasn't lost yet again.