May 29, 2012

Beyond Finals

It's weird how I feel somehow bad that I haven't posted much in the past year--as though I haven't contributed my two cents to the blogosphere--which I guess I technically haven't--and I wouldn't say the world is any worse off for it.

My last post, lamenting the agonies of finals and the lust for expensive products made by Apple was pleasing at the time. Now, however, I think I have a few more interesting (and less expensive) things to write about. By the way, I'm writing this on my hefty Dell, which is still working...

So I survived Finals, if not with a few deeper lines in my forehead and a few more red lines showing in my eyes. I successfully completed my first year of grad school with a 4.0 GPA (I would expect nothing less). Many of my colleagues did the same--and this is the reason I love grad school so much. So many motivated and intelligent people working together. Compared with my undersgraduate coursework, in this Master's program, feel much more accomplished. I think many grad students have the experience that it is the students who run grad courses by contributing thoguhts and summaries of the textbooks and articles choosen by thte professor. It's more pressure, but more rewarding for those, who, like me, are willing to put in the extra effort (i.e. reading time). I will say that modesty may not be the virtue of my blog.

As though finals were not enough, I also finished up ENG 105. Toward the end of a hard day of grading, I had to call my Grandpa for some advice. I lamented the poor students, the no-shows, the good-students-gone-bad. I complained (as you might guess from the way I write) about almost every aspect of teaching. My Grandpa listened patientiently and diagnosed me as a novice teacher. You'll toughen up, he said. It's hard to give out unlikeable grades to kids you like. Teachers, especially at the beginning, want everyone to succeed, and take it very personally when some students don't make it. Stick to the standards. Use your rubric. Give them the grade they earned. That's your job. They might not be successful in your class, but that's ok. As a long-time teacher, administrator, and coach, my Grandpa is a good mentor for a novice like me. After talking with him, I felt ready to dole out final grades, difficult as it was to know that I might have the power to end someone's student visa.

The sharp drop-off of activity since finals caught me off guard. My boyfriend has moved in for the summer--which is a huge change from our nightly telephone calls. I think I drove him a little nuts the first few days because I wanted to stay so busy. We painted a few rooms in my apartment and drove all over town looking for a new dining room table. We also drove all over town trying to find him some temporary employment. I think I've blogged several times about how tough it is to get temporary employment. It's the same story here in Flagstaff. He must have filled out 20 applications in one week. We've been scouring the city for possibilities, but no luck yet.

The highlight of the summer so far was the solar eclipse. If you are an astronomy junkie, or if you listen to NPR, you might know that last Sunday, there was a total eclipse of the sun, visible in the US southwest, along a line passing very near the Grand Canyon. I had been eager to get our of Flagstaff for a day trip somewhere, so I decided that we should make an event out of this eclipse. We bought special eclipse glasses and drove up to Page, AZ, hoping for an optimal view. By chance we happened upon a dusty desert hiking trail  that had perfect views of the expanses of land around Page. We got to watch the moon slowly eat away the sun for nearly an hour before all that remained was a thin ring of fire. It was a very bizarre experience because the sky didn't actually darken as I thought it might, but it did seem to cool off by about 20 degrees once the moon blocked the sun. It's a rare event to have a total eclipse slide through your backyard, so I'm thrilled that we made a fun day out of it.

Okay, I feel better about my cyber contributions for this month. Tomorrow I start my summer gig at the Program in Intensive English. I forecast some interesting posts in the near future...

May 7, 2012

"Thoughts on technology" or "Waste some time while studying for Finals"

At the end of every semester, it seems, I get the urge to make a major change.

The psychologist in me says that I am seeking control during a time when everything is chaotic and mostly out of my control.

Last semester, during Finals Week, I decided to try being vegetarian. A good choice, I think--except for Diablo Burger and the delicious food made by my Chinese Scholars. I had to convert back for a few hours to sample their dishes.

This semester, I am fixated on getting new technology. "Retail Therapy" you may be thinking.  I too, think that such a phenomenon may be contributing to my desire, but I also think that the 6-inch stack of articles I have printed for my classes this semester might have something to do with it.

My hearty Dell laptop survived my entire undergraduate career (including Study Abroad), and went on the fritz just before my finals in December, 2009. I tried to replace the trusty (albeit weighty) Dell with a netbook. Yes, I needed something lightweight for my trip to Cambodia, and December 2009 may have been the peak of the netbook. Babytop, my tiny, red companion, got me through hundreds of Cambodian Adventure Lady blogs, but definitely falls short as a primary computer. It's small, does not have a common OS, and somehow the speakers and headphone jack do not work any more (thanks probably to the humidity in Phnom Penh).

Before grad school, I grudgingly agreed not to purchase a new laptop, and instead had a new hard drive installed in the now seriously old-school Dell.

I admit, the longevity of this machine is usual. In these times of rapidly changing technologies, few machines can keep up.

I found out today that mine has trouble keeping up, too. Google Docs. If you've never use these magical, yet devious devices, let me explain. A Google Doc is very similar to an word-processing program, except that it is stored online. In addition, you can invite anyone to co-author the document. Two or more people can even work on the document simultaneously, which eliminates the need for sending drafts of revisions back and forth (a tedious and almost traumatic experience for someone like me, who usually struggles with the revisions that others make--or don't).

Back to the Google Doc, today I organized a study session for our Sociolinguistics class. I prepared a Google Doc with all of the study guide questions so that we could all upload our existing work, and continue working simultaneously to get this study guide finished. Let me just say that nine people sitting around a library table with laptops, six-inch stacks of articles, textbooks, flash drives, chai teas, and cell phones is a bit chaotic to begin with. Once we started working on the Google Doc, things got even crazier. At first, it was sort of like magic. Answers started popping up. Little bits of knowledge from our respective brains coming together. Then it got crazy. People started uploading study guides from last year (borrowed in good faith from nice 2nd-year MA's).

Our once pristine study guide quickly turned into a 50-page festering wound of text. I'm the kind of person who takes one look a document like that (by the way, we are allowed only 2 pages of notes for the test) and wants to blow chunks.

Seriously. I'm all about compiling info and then cutting it down later, but what am I supposed to do with 50 pages of other people's stuff? The answer is of course: delete, delete, delete; but where do I start?

I think my computer and I had some sort of ESP, because the nine-person simultaneous edit kept shutting down my Internet Explorer, and my computer became unresponsive three times before I gave up.

I don't think I can blame the old technology for me giving up, as I also became unresponsive several times...yet, I do think that things like Google Docs and other online "cloud" storage is probably the next big thing. It can be wildly convenient if your computer or other device can keep up. I wanted to participate a little better in the brain and file dump this afternoon, and I couldn't keep up with the fiesty Macbooks and Lenovos.

So if you will remember back to the beginning of this post, I wrote about my obsession with getting new technology. I've been researching the iPad. It's not a laptop, but it could be a nice tool when I don't have access to a computer, but need connectivity and access to my documents.The iPad has been dominating my wish list for a number of reasons:

1) Most important, it looks so cool. I think I have just blown my credibility entirely, but hear me out or skip to #2. When I see others with iPads, I assume they are not only cool, but also very smart and organized--though it is more likely the case that they are spoiled brats (undergraduates) or are eating Ramen every night to make up for the cost (graduate students). Moreover, neither smarter nor more organized than me, they probably just think iPads are cool, so they got one.

2) Lightweight. I ride my bike to school (to save the $500 parking pass for people with extra money) and my Goliath laptop would make the ride more difficult and contribute to my already crappy posture. As of now, I almost never bring my laptop (I have my own computer in my office), but next year, I won't have my own computer and I will have just as much computer work to do, so I think I will want my laptop more often. Hence, I need a lightweight alternative.

3) Read, store, organize PDF's and e-books. My discipline loves PDF articles, as evidenced in the mind-blowing stacks I have been lugging around the past couple days in preparation for finals. Put these in combination with my overweight laptop, and I need a backpack and another bag to haul all of my materials to the library (or nearest chai tea location). Beyond the heavy-factor, it's a task just to find the right article in the stack. For each question, I have to look through 30-40 articles. Not efficient. Once I find the article I want, I still have to look for the term or specific information that I need. Not that this is too difficult a task, but in an e-format, a quick document search would save loads of time! I'm imagining the utopian grad school experience in which I can easily access the rich knowledge (and the minutia) of TESL with the tap of a screen and spend the time I would have spent rifling through my files on thinking deeply about the concepts most salient to my field.

(side note: yikes on my writing style. I can tell I've been writing academic papers all year. I just identified an appositive noun phrase earlier in this post. Gag! Grammar class has ruined me.)

4) Netflix. You bet I watch Netflix! I'm just finishing Season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race (America's Next Top Model for Drag Queens). I would love to have a clearer picture for my indulgence in crap TV. Maybe if I become more cool with an iPad, I would watch cooler shows. Doubtful, but maybe I will!

5) Who cares. I've made you read a ton of blabbing (again).

To review, my old laptop is heavy and can't keep up with the changes in technology or my life, Google Docs can be a hot mess, an iPads are the ticket to utopia.