I have been invited to be the keynote speaker for the AACC Presidents Academy Summer Institute (PASI). This an annual professional development program for CEOs/Presidents of member community colleges, provides intensive focus on current challenges, emerging trends, and opportunities unique to that position. I am planning to discuss the role of technology has in inspiring faculty and students in the contexts of teaching and learning. I am sure a big focus of the talk will be on the results of the CI 598 inspired Occupy Learning project and the associated outcomes.
Let me start by saying that work has not been all that much fun lately. And that is a terrible thing for someone to post on the Internet for the whole planet to see … I say that fully knowing that no more than say 100 people will actually take the time to read at this, so I’m probably safe. That’s perfectly fine with me for the simple fact that at some point this week I decided I needed to start getting back to what is professionally important to me — having fun at work.
Thinking, talking, and sharing are all critical pieces of the puzzle and up until this week I had forgotten that I hadn’t done any of it in more than half a year. Writing is one of those things and I find that I use it as a way to balance my thinking with the insanity that is the daily grind. Doing that has been quite literally impossible for me for quite some time. I’ve written only two times since October … that has to stop. And just to track my own past half year or so I need to write some of this stuff down. So, read on if you want, but the rest is really for me.
You see, I work at Penn State and I’m not sure if you’ve read about the happenings at our great Institution over the last four months but if not, just type the words “Penn State Scandal” into your little google box and read up on it. It has been a horrible time to be a part of the Institution for so many — the news out of my adopted hometown has rocked this entire community to its core … and it isn’t over. I am an administrator here at Penn State and while that doesn’t make it any more painful for me to deal with the issues, it has certainly made the work I do much more complicated. The people I work with here are unbelievably strong and resilient, but biting the bullet and being that way for months at a time takes a toll on people at every single level of the Unviersity. Our students are still reeling, our staff are still searching, our faculty are still trying to come to terms, and our administration is still just trying — just trying to make sense of it all and what it means to us all going forward.
Did you notice I haven’t mentioned football? Well, since I just did let me say that we know this isn’t about football. In some ways it was, but the reality is something that can’t be boiled down to a game. While ESPN tries to tell us all what it is and isn’t about, the fact of the matter is that this tragedy is so big, so complex, and so painful for everyone connected to this great place that it sometimes makes things easier to just go with the simple answer. The problem in that thinking is that it may work for a headline, but it certainly does nothing to shed light on the way my students, colleagues, and all of those connected to PSU actually feel. I really hate to say this, but if you aren’t a member of this community the bullshit commentary and rhetoric of ESPN and the media at large mean absolutely nothing. Nothing. Sorry, that’s the truth. I’ve listened over and over again to people tell me what is really going on from the outsider perspective and I have had to learn to just sit quietly and listen. You see in a way, we feel like we’ve earned that spot of shame, not because a single one of us did a damn thing wrong, but because we have, since I have been here, all looked at ourselves as different — a place where we knew we were doing things the right way. The fact that we didn’t is the shame. The being a part of the community is the great part. But when those people talk, I don’t have anything to defend. How does one defend the inexcusable actions of the few? I can’t and I wouldn’t try.
Are things getting back to normal in Happy Valley? No. There is still so much lingering pain and confusion throughout all ranks. To be a little cliched, that day in November when the news broke was truly the day the music died. What we were prior to the breaking of that story is history, a thing of folklore. All of us are now focused on what we will become. We are actively trying to become something new, something better, and I can tell you from what I see, something much stronger. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that Chrysler commercial where Eminem is driving through the streets of Detroit and the voice over says something to the effect of, “from the hottest fire comes the strongest steel,” well that is us. We are crushed inside because the place we have and continue to care so deeply for has been wounded in a terrible way. But from the intensity of that pain is coming a new strength. A strength that cries out, “we are” with a new sense of purpose. A purpose that I firmly believe will guide us towards a new beginning. In that is where I begin to find a strength I never thought I had. Tomorrow my family and I will go to the Bryce Jordan Center to visit our students at THON and we will see that strength and in a very real way we will realize that we are growing stronger from this.
In September, my hometown of Bloomsburg, PA was nearly destroyed by record setting floods fueled by Tropical Storm Lee. An event that changed me forever. The day I got to may parents’ house that had nearly five feet of water in it, my Mom fell into my arms in a way that one never wants to feel. The intensity of the pain everywhere is depicted in the photos I took, but the real sense of loss and rage were emotions that I had never felt. In one weekend so much was taken from so many in a place that is my true home. It seems like forever ago now, but the days, weeks, and months that followed taught me so much about the human spirit and the power of community. If you’ve never seen much of your history be taken to a make shift dump in your hometown, you can’t understand the aggregate damage. On the tennis courts I learned to play on as a ten year old I got to see the possessions of hundreds of families, the pile representing decades of love, memories, and importance lost.
The flood reintroduced me to friends all over the US that I had forgotten decades earlier. Friends that have helped form the foundation of The Bloomsburg Daily and the Flood of Silence projects as well as raise thousands of dollars and donations for families all over town. The flood helped me to connect to colleagues here at Penn State who wanted to show how much they cared about what had happened. The flood made me listen to new music and decode messages that I had long forgotten how to do.
Each day during those early months I threw myself into both my on and above campus work. I don’t remember much from September and October — no sleep, no rest, and certainly very little joy. But I did it and I don’t think I destroyed anything or anyone along the way. I just sort of found a way to be, but again it wasn’t with joy that I did my work — and I mean the work of the Unviersity and the work of The Bloomsburg Daily. It was a grind that needed to happen on both fronts.
If I haven’t lost you by now, the last thing I need to document here is in reality the worst of the past few months. The health of my Dad took an incredibly unexpected turn in early January. While hitting a golf ball he heard a pop in the Humorous bone of his left arm. It turned out that he had a malignant tumor eating its way through the bone and the weakened arm finally gave way. Bone cancer. I hate that word — it has taken so many and so many close to me in the last few years.
I went to Florida and spent a full week with he and my Mother trying to help him get the kind of care he needed to stay alive and healthy. Here’s the rub, my Dad is my best friend. He means so much to me on so many levels. It hasn’t always been that way. When I was a kid there was a distance there that was probably caused mostly by me, but it was there. But sometime around 14 or so, things changed and he went from Dad, to hero, to best friend. We talk all the time about our beloved WVU Mountaineers — and honestly while he sat in his chair in FL with a severely fractured arm with a tumor in his body we watched an epic Mountaineer basketball game and laughed and cheered together. It was so emotionally draining that at the end of the game we both cried a bit. I was quietly praying it wouldn’t be the last one.
It won’t be. We went to one of the best cancer centers in the Country and at the moment we have a good prognosis. He had the tumor removed in tact and ended up with a full shoulder replacement, but he kept his arm and he is in amazing spirits. While we haven’t sat down to watch a game together I fully expect us to do just that next fall back in Bloomsburg is his rebuilt home. I bet we even give each other a high five on that rebuilt left arm. I need to just write the following words down so I can express how I feel right now and how much everyone who sent prayers, positive wishes, and energy to me means — thank you. And thank you doesn’t even do it, but it is what I have.
The shit of it is that I know my darkest days aren’t over. Hell, they’ve only just begun, but what I do know is that I can make it through them. I have an incredible family, incredible friends, and am a member of two amazing communities in both Bloomsburg and State College. So I will find time to read, reflect, talk, and share. I will find time to write and be a better member of the communities I feel connected to. I will be a better friend, husband, Father, Brother, and Son. I don’t have any choice. The past six months have changed me, but not in the ways that I would have predicted. I have no bitterness or anger. I have a new sense of resolve and strength. I finally get it. I am the luckiest man in the World.
If you know me you know I use my iPad quite a bit and have really since the device came out a couple of years ago. I even gave my laptop up for a month to just focus on understanding how the iPad could fit into my workflow. I have written several times about what I’ve learned, but wanted to dive into how functional it has become for me all over again in the last few days.
I have stayed away from getting a stylus as I felt like I wasn’t going to go against the intended design of the device — remember Steve hated the idea, so naturally I listened to him. But, I’ve been watching friends and colleagues switch to working with the iPad with a stylus and felt it might be time. What pushed me over the edge was a post by my old friend (and still my goto edutech blogger and idea man), D’Arcy Norman who wrote about his own iPad note-taking workflow … and just like I have for nearly a decade, I listened.
My biggest challenge with the iPad has been around its utility as a note taking device. I have tried to make Evernote my home as well as the built in Notes app. Neither really worked. I am not going to switch to one of those keyboard cases that so many people like — I already use an 11″ MacBook Air so I don’t need a setup that looks and works almost just like that. I am good at typing on the onscreen keyboard, but I find typing to be only a very small part of what I need to do on my iPad. I need to be able to grab screenshots and quickly annotate them, I need to draw interface ideas, I need to draw graphs and other representations of data, and I need to make sure I can find it at a later date. From D’Arcy’s post …
I had a bit of a holy crap moment the other day, in a vendor demo. I was taking notes, and wanted to capture a diagram that was on the screen. So I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a quick photo of the screen. I waited maybe 5 seconds, and then clicked the “insert image” icon in noteshelf. I went to my iCloud photostream, and there was the photo I had just taken on my phone. I selected it, and it was in my notes. Holy crap. Couldn’t do THAT with my old notebooks…
So when I read D’Arcy’s post I figured it was time to break down and try a new way of interacting with my iPad. Quite frankly, I have been floored by how well it supports a whole new level of my workflow. I bought a super cheap Pogo Sketch pen to see if I would like this approach … and while the “pen” isn’t up to my standards, it was an $11 investment into moving towards a new workflow. I will probably quickly switch to the well liked Wacom Bamboo Stylus as I move forward.
Here is an example of how I was able to instantly take advantage of this new approach … I am teaching Disruptive Technologies graduate course again this semester with colleague Scott McDonald and we are engaged in a project that I really need to share more broadly called, “Occupy Learning.” The idea is that teams of students go to specific classrooms on campus and occupy them for a couple of weeks to document the overall affordances of the space — what kinds of practice does it support, what are the limitations, how do faculty use it, etc. The idea is that they will produce an integrated artifact that is published on the web. Well, yesterday the two teams shared their first efforts … they were good, but the students wanted more guidance on what the actual outcome or artifact should be.
Since the room we were using has a killer Steelcase Mediascape system in it, we can have a whole bunch of machines easily connected to a huge display at the same time. Switching from my laptop, to Scott’s laptop, to a student laptop, to my iPad is a matter of tapping the switching puck. Well, with my new stylus I was able to show everyone in class what the artifact might look like … easily drawing and highlighting the difference between embedded media and original text. Being able to effortlessly do that within the flow of sitting around and having a discussion was a serious “ah-ha” moment. It was in that moment that I realized just how powerful these types of technologies can be to alter and support discourse, engagement, and workflow.
While the sketch itself isn’t much, it was an amazingly simple way to make the point in the moment in as natural a way as I could think of. Moreover, the sketch and the simplicity in which it was produced created a framework for the right kind of conversation around the ideal way to present such dynamic content. It also pushed us down the path of deeply considering the notions of audience (administration, faculty, students) and purpose (build awareness, help drive decisions, creation of a long term repository of outcomes) in ways that wouldn’t have emerged by trying to draw the picture in their minds with words alone. A simple example.
I have now gone full D’Arcy and started using Noteshelf for note taking and the combination of drawing directly to screen and the ability to insert any picture to annotate now gets me to where I need to be. If I see something I want to describe I can snap a photo with the iPad and annotate it. If I have an idea about something we are working on, I can do a quick screen capture and mark it up. Then I can instantly push it to Evernote for longer term curation, post it to Twitter, or send the old fashioned way via email. Really simple, but really very powerful and what a joy when our tools actually go beyond just supporting our workflow towards enhancing it. Thanks, D’Arcy (again).
This is not a post discussing the merits of Apple’s iBooks 2 announcement … that has been done all over the web. Instead I did what I typically do when a new publishing engine emerges, I try to publish content with it. So attached to this post is a first shot at publishing some content … and again, as I typically do, I grab content that exists and re-imagine it within the construct of a new platform. This is the same content that was published a long time ago by my team in the IST Solutions Institute via the D3 platform we utilized. I have since published this old content numerous times across various platforms including Drupal, WordPress, and MoveableType. Now it is reborn as an iBook — with a few extra pieces of media thrown in. This is not a full test and it certainly is not a “publishable” piece of work … although the process to get this much content packaged and online was next to nothing — maybe 30 minutes of work.
If you have an iPad you can download and install (I guess that is what happens when you click the link) this text into iBooks 2. The process of getting it onto the iPad seems a little slow and outmoded without the aid of the actual iBook Store. The link takes quite a bit of time to bounce me from Safari to the actual iBooks app on the iPad. I did sign up to be a publisher, but I have yet to receive all the information back from Apple even a couple hours after I submitted it. If I can find a way to become a publisher, this would be much simpler and would probably integrate very nicely with the new iTunes U functionality. I will keep looking at it.
I and others have been critical about the lack of open and available news in and around Bloomsburg, PA over the last several weeks. It has been widely documented that the Press Enterprise offered two or three days of free digital distribution following the flood — primarily because they couldn’t deliver the physical paper to residents in flooded areas. After those first three days, the Press went back to posting daily stories behind a paywall.
Since the flood that has so devastated Bloomsburg, PA there have been several Facebook pages started to try and organize help and information for the people in town — many of whom have lost everything. Demands to the Press Enterprise to open their flood related information has been met with silence from them. Amazingly there have been so many people who have defended the approach by the Press, saying it is a business and we can’t expect them to give away the paper. That has been a faulty and mismatched argument from the beginning as I haven’t seen anyone demanding that all of the Press be opened, instead the focus has been on flood related images and news.
I haven’t been shy about sharing the numbers of views I’ve received for the 373 photos I posted openly to Flickr in the days following the flood. As a matter of fact, in a presentation I gave at the PA Newspaper Association’s Advertising Conference last week I shared that these photos were viewed 153,650 times from 9/11/2011 through 9/28/2011. What that tells me is that there is a market of need that wasn’t being filled by traditional channels.
Today, my wife shared with me a new page that appears in google search results for an open archive of 30 pictures from the Press Enterprise. The photos are shared in a gallery outside the paywall and are openly available to view and download. Like we have hoped from the beginning, the photos are excellent in that they are taken in the moment by newspaper professionals. Is the Press Enterprise listening to the pleas and (in my opinion) appropriately toned criticism? Perhaps, but either way we now have access to at least 30 images linked from the official newspaper site of the greater Bloomsburg area. I call that progress by any measure.
In Friday’s Press Enterprise is a letter to the editor that casts a very critical view on town and University leaders in the days following the Bloomsburg Flood. The letter, written by a Bloomsburg resident titled, “Town’s attitude angers West Ender,” works to explain how it feels to live in the western part of town — to be branded “west enders” perhaps.
“You think we are fools who only have ourselves to blame for getting flooded. We choose to live in the West End so we got exactly what we deserved, right? We are uneducated and obviously not as “intelligent” as you, or we wouldn’t be in this situation…I live here because my home, like others in the flood zone, was passed down through generations of families.”
When I first lived on the Bloomsburg side of the Susquehanna River, I lived at 245 East Street in a pre-civil war house that my Dad bought at a bank auction. It was in the middle of an ever-increasing press from student housing. I am sure at some point prior to moving there in 1977 (from Wonderview) the whole of East Street were families. I loved living there. There were young families along third and fourth streets where we rode our bikes late into the evening year around. I wasn’t aware that I was living a different life than kids on Market Street. My friends weren’t children of doctors, lawyers, or professors (although my parents were). They were children of the town, almost all Bloomsburg natives. It was the best place in the world to grow up. It made me tough, it made me incredulous, and it made me love Bloomsburg.
We moved to East 12th street when I started 10th grade, but I always look back on my days on East Street as the best of my youth. Socio-economics didn’t matter to me and to this day they don’t. When I was a child, I heard people talk about divides in town, but I was too young and oblivious to really understand. I see it now. I am now reading the wedge issues in the Press and it makes me sad. And the sadness deepens when I read this from that same letter:
“Sadly, we are the ones cast aside; they’ll give us a token or two, but in their eyes we’re just idiots who live too close to the water.”
With that said, I now know the same pain those do in the western part of town — that when the water comes, it takes everything with it as it leaves. And in this flood it leaves more questions to engage in for the longer term than any clean up effort ever will.
Can we climb out of our rage and frustration to build a new sense of empathy? One of the things I find interesting about the letter is that it feels like it has been published to further divide the town, instead of bind it. I can completely understand where the author is coming from and I know it is from a position of anger and frustration. I feel both of those. I’ve walked the devastation in Bloomsburg. I am outraged by much of what has gone on, but I would also urge us to work to feel a sense of change happening.
The free trash collection was ended early, but it was brought back with clear instructions on how it would proceed after residents voiced concerns. The Block Party is a disaster, but the way the University came to the aid of the town has been inspiring. This is a chance for positive and restorative messages, ones I would love to see published openly in the Press Enterprise and online so people in and outside of Bloomsburg can engage in a new form of conversation regarding a town that is about one community and not multiples. What will it take for us to alter the rhetoric that has dominated our community for so long? Engaging that question is critical to our relief effort.
Update: This was submitted to the Press Enterprise as a letter to the editor.
I am really curious about what has happened in the towns around Bloomsburg, PA. Catawissa, PA comes to mind as a place that had to have been hit so hard and yet I’ve not heard or seen a thing. It simply blows my mind that the only real reason I know about what has happened in Bloomsburg is because I’ve visited there. Now that I have a subscription to The Press Enterprise, you know the newspaper whose slogan is, “Serving Bloomsburg, Berwick, and Danville, PA,” I can easily keep up to date with those areas.
So now I begin to wonder who is serving a town as small as Catawissa, PA? And what about Orangeville, Benton, and Millville, PA? These are all towns with homes, churches, schools, businesses, and people. These are all towns I rode my bike to when I was growing up. Who is responsible for exposing their stories? Who is collecting them?
These are questions we should all be asking.
I woke this morning to a front page headline in the Press Enterprise titled, Don’t abandon us, Bloom. It is a piece focusing attention on the town’s decision to stop free trash pickup and the overall impact on the residents in town. When I first saw the headline I thought maybe I was reading an editorial, but the story signifies something deeper than that. To me it is another example of the type of narrative that is built to construct a wedge issue.
“We ripped it out so it wouldn’t grow mold,” Mr. Taylor said. “Now it’s getting moldy out there.” Dawn Taylor said no one on their block had a good idea when debris pickup would end. They heard through word of mouth about the Wednesday cutoff. “And a panic kind of set in,” she said. “Like, ‘What comes after that?'” The Taylors have flood insurance on their house, but not its contents. That means they’ll be paying to replace their washer, dryer, stove and all the other appliances lost when just under 3 feet of muddy water rushed through their first floor. “We don’t want to take advantage of the system,” Taylor said. But they don’t have much money to spare for a Dumpster rental.
In addition to the stories of my friends’ needs, what I really wanted to see in the piece were some real details about what FEMA would and wouldn’t do, but we’ve all seen in the last few days what has gone on with that argument in DC. We aren’t at a place where we should be ready to blame our local government when these issues are so much more complex than a binary decision. All this is new territory to us locally, but we have to remember that regardless of the rhetoric we’ve historically entered into a social contract of sorts — local communities can count on the Federal Government to help us not fail when disasters happen. And a disaster has happened — locally. With that in mind, I think that in the wake of the flood we remember what real abandonment looks like to the people in and around Bloomsburg. It looks like this:
That is the image of total loss, of the need to abandon, and the need to be emotional. Keri and her family lost their house today. It is so easy to say she’ll get relief, but I hope we can lean on some sort of empathy and feel for them in ways we aren’t usually asked to. Each day this is happening in Bloomsburg. Each day this isn’t being shared. Why? Here is another story from another Bloomsburg resident that has lost everything … someone I can guarantee you won’t see in the paper or on the nightly news. This is the new reality and this is yet another story that wouldn’t otherwise get told. These are stories of real abandonment. This is a Flood of Silence.