Category: Education

From preschool to college and beyond. I am a big fan of online learning.

Navigating Multiple Online Classes

This week the Spring school semester began.

I’m taking six online classes.

At first I thought, “This is going to be so easy! My school calendar is synced to my iPhone, I have the iStudiez Pro app, and my school is signed up for access to the Blackboard Mobile app. Wherever I am, I can post to discussion boards or otherwise keep up with my classes!”

Of course, with a tool like Blackboard, the class is only as organized as the teacher who builds the class. A late syllabus will not come any faster via excellent connectivity if the teacher has not uploaded it. So I’m refreshing my app and not a whole lot is happening and I’m wondering if this is a taste of things to come in the next 15 weeks.

My class lineup is interesting. In order to facilitate a faster graduation time I’ve transferred and changed my major to Interdisciplinary Studies. I should be done by August. So there is a required Interdisciplinary Studies class as well as two music classes (yes, I’ve been avoiding the arts like the plague) and other classes I’ll talk about when something fun or interesting comes up.

Tactile Information and Transport

I checked in on the first day of classes and printed everything available. Yes, I could just look at the assignments in Word, but I’m a note-taker. Keeping the notes on the pages is important to me. I keep those notes in tabbed manilla folders. On the folders I write down important dates for easy reference. If other notes need to go in the file, I put them on post-it notes on the inside cover of the folder.

If you are able to track everything on something like EverNote or some Borg app you’re rocking on your Mac, well, then you are cooler/younger/better than I am. I’m fine with that, I have other fabulous qualities. You know, like my ability to drink copious quantities of wine. It’s a skill, people.

Seriously, the other reason I like having it all on paper is for throwing stuff in a bag and huffing my butt to the library for some child-free study time. Sure, I could hope it’s all on my computer, or I could copy and paste it all into Google Docs, but what if I get to the computer and seven hundred things happen that mean I’m down to just my paperwork and myself. I’m going to want those folders. (Basically, I get really nervous if I don’t have something to hold on to. I’m a dinosaur like that.)

A Special Place for Books

You can’t just chuck your books anywhere or you’ll lose them. Of course that’s assuming you’re able to lose textbooks. I am. It’s happened with books so big they had to resize themselves in order to hide so completely. Once, I found a textbook in the kids’ bookshelf in their room. Really? You wanted to learn about Finite Math? Sure you did. Book stealing little monsters trying to outwit me!

Probably not, but you never know. Kids get that knowing look and  you know they’re planning something straight up evil. What? I’m paranoid? Maybe.

My books live in a special place to the right of my desk. I can swirl my office chair to the right, lean over, and swipe the book I need. As you can see, I have a few oversized, paperback books (My Favorite Kind!! *yeahright*) but I hate those books a lot less after I figured out you can pop them into a magazine holder and be done with it.

Books 0 – Me 1

The Plan (As It Stands Right Now)

My plan is to check everything on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ll concentrate on homework from two classes on each of these days. With the two music classes, I’m going to break those up and marry them to an English class (I’m taking two of those, too). Then, on Fridays I’ll focus on the other two classes.

If there is a change to the syllabus, I can just shift what classes get taken care of on what days.

The Bottom Line

I’ve never had problems with online classes, but the more of them you take in any given semester the more important it is to have a plan. Sure, I could wing it and would probably do alright. I don’t know if the school I’m going to has a curve, but even without one, standards are pretty low.

Don’t get me wrong, students aren’t stupider than they were when I was young and stupid. They have more of a special snowflake (def. 2) issue than students did when I was in school, but they aren’t dumb. That being said, I do think teachers are lazier. Or more burned out. Or high. *shrug*

Are you an adult learner (or not) taking online classes? What are some of your tips and tricks?

Luckie Louie in Media Class

An interesting thing happened in media class. Our professor wanted to show us a “bad” sitcom he found detestable.

So he showed us Luckie Louie.

It was crass, but it was funny and he didn’t expect the class to relate so strongly to this show.

To his credit, he totally rolled with it and it turned into a class conversation about how we think media influences parenting.

If you don’t mind crass humor and bad acting, you should check out the show. Have you already watched it? What did you think?

Hiding a Gift out of Fear (or, The Only Person Who Didn’t Realize it Was Me)

Since I was a kid, there is only one thing I swore I would never be. “A writer?” I would say with the snarling how-dare-you look and tone only an inexperienced kid could muster. “Sure, I’d LOVE to be in a profession that will turn me into a depressed, insane drunk. Who wouldn’t?!”

Because as it turns out I knew everything when I was 12. It’s the only excuse I have for sharing nuggets of wisdom like that with anyone who would listen. Otherwise I was just a bratty kid, and who wants to admit they were an average, bratty kid. Much better to try and convince you I was a child prodigy, right?

Ok, now that we’ve all accepted my childhood genius, I’ll get on with the story.

I’ve avoided becoming a professional writer for years. There was that year I kind of told everyone I was a professional writer. It was true. I wrote a lot and got paid for every assignment. But writing? Only in the strictest sense. It was a marketing gig involving lots of words and keywords and keyword phrases. Plus, as soon as I was able I subcontracted the hell out of the gig so I wouldn’t have to find the hundred and first way to talk about steam.

Still, I didn’t consider myself a real writer, becuase I was being paid and felt that was kind of the antithesis of what being a “real writer” was all about. Also, I thought writers only wrote about what they wanted to write about – you know, their passion – and thus this worky-work I was doing could not possibly be what people were talking about when they talked about writing.

My “not writing” has served me well at work, at home, at networking events, and now for school assignments. I am not a writer, you see, because I’m just fulfilling a requirement while I learn about this other thing. Not a writer. Not me.

Then I had this crazy idea. I asked my media professor out for coffee. He ended up turning it back around on me and buying me coffee, but that’s okay, too. We talked for a couple hours and it was fascinating and enlightening and really engaging conversation.

That’s when it happened. This person with over 10 published books, over 40 years of journalism experience, and a completely no-holds-barred love of honesty flat out told me I have a gift for writing.

Well, crap.

I can’t be a writer, I say, because they’re all poor and depressed and drunk…except you, of course. (See that use of language, where I totally insulted him but then took it all back at the end. That is considered super-classy by writers. It’s not backpedaling or just trying to cover your butt. It’s technique.)

He said something along the lines of: Writers have been doing paid gigs they hate from the beginning of time. All writers hate their work and think it’s crap because they know they could have done better.

Surprise! I had NOTHING to say to that. He did that thing where a very intuitive person reaches into your head and shuts your argumentative butt down before you have the chance to even get out the first whiny word.

While I am a big fan of doing that thing to strangers on the street or people I don’t know very well, I don’t remember the last time someone did that to me. It was humbling, to say the least. Part of me wanted to wring his neck (just a little, I swear) but we put that part back in the steel cage in my head where he lives a highly pretend-medicated existance.

Stop being scared, he said. Stop attaching your work to your ego. Realize your work exists for its own sake and not for the love of others.

Oh wow. Yes. THAT.

See, I may hate writing, but I hate not writing even more. It’s why my blog hasn’t gone totally out of existance since I started it in 2003. It’s why, even though I have complained about writing since the day you’ve known me, I can’t seem to stop. “It’s just for work,” I say, “It’s a necessary evil,” I explain. But what really remains is that if I didn’t want a job where writing was necessary, I could get another job.

Instead of lying to myself about why I write I’m going to just keep writing.

Because this hodgepodge mess of me talking to you here like you’re sitting across from me at the Starbucks? Yeah, I found out that’s called “writing style” and it takes years to develop and getting rid of it would be a very. bad. idea.

So I choose to avoid the very. bad. idea. and stick with the writing. I don’t know exactly what will happen from this point forward, but I’m going to own it and sashay with it and see what happens.

The downside to all of this was when he told me that academic writing is not compatible with my style of writing. At all. That is worrying, to say the least.

Tell me, what’s your gift? Are you honoring it or hiding it and choosing to do other things you’re less afraid of? I’m just curious if this happens to other artists, any non-artists.

Going for Number One (or, Wow I have Priority Issues)

I read the material, but I’m not applying myself as much as I should.

No one to blame but myself, really. I could be spending time in the library, but my social life is important to me and sometimes I choose that instead. Why? Because I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Of course, if my child says that to me when she’s 19 I’ll probably read her the riot act about how every day is a gift and you have to focus. Or something that will be totally hypocritical.

Next week is midterms. I turned one in already. We are halfway though this horrific semester and I have to suck it up and not be a prima-donna about it anymore.

Fighting for opportunities is what I have to do. It’s time.

After being ditched by the economics department head I showed back up again and had a great experience and think she will help me. So not giving up pays off. Now, I have to show her and everyone else that I’m someone to notice and help and get in there and get the best education I can.

On the bright side, I’ve always had an affinity for the library. I’m about to spend so much time there my family might not know what I look like anymore.

The Culture of a College (or university or whatever)

My friend Ro told me something last night that made me really take a step back and think about what I’m doing right now. “What you are experiencing,” She said, “is not the reputation of the college, but the culture of the college.”

Let me go back.

You may remember my teacher who said, “don’t bother Googling it, you won’t find any real information…the right wing think tanks spend all their time putting skewed information online.”

You  might also have heard this same teacher said, “but we all know the problem of giving government money to the poor – you have to control the breeding.”

It’s also impossible to work ahead or be prepared in almost any of my classes because most of my teachers have tossed the syllabus out the window. In one class we have only referenced the almost $200 book one time. Everything else is based on in-class information.

Or there is always the registration process where no one told me that to remain in the honors program I had to take an honors class every semester. I found that out online. Then I tried to talk to the pre-law advisor and it was a difficult and unrewarding process that led to me getting referred – via email – to the student pre-law association. I was okay with this because I had an appointment scheduled with my academic advisor – the head of the Economics department – and felt great about it. She chose the time and day, I talked to my teacher and missed a class to go and wait…and wait…in front of her office…I called the office and heard the phone ring…I emailed… Finally, I just left to catch the train.

I received an email an hour later with a quick apology and explanation that she couldn’t meet me because her Dean needed to have a meeting with her about summer school. Of course, my cell phone number is at the bottom of every one of my emails. She could have called me instead of leaving me waiting. I rescheduled and told her it would have to be a different time because I’m not missing another class. She responds back I should never have missed a class for a meeting.

Because that was the problem, obviously.

I’m going to give her another try on Thursday. I’m not pleased with the reschedule because I’ll have to be on an even more crowded train than usual on the day of my girls’ open house.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some great and useful information during the meeting. Otherwise, I will be attending an advising appointment on Friday at another college both closer to home and much, much less expensive.

Paying for filet and getting hamburger is not my idea of a smart financial decision. I’d rather just get a hamburger and pay for a hamburger and make sure I get as much as I can out of my hamburger experience.

What do you think shows the culture of a college?

Meeting Teachers – Making Friends

This is a parody post of sorts. I keep hearing that it’s important to meet your teachers, connect with them, get to know them.

Who knows, maybe you’re supposed to try and play a pick-up game of hackie-sack with them. All I know is, if I don’t make then love me enough to write recommendations for me, I may very well not get into law school.

So, in a stroke of “genius” I decide to start with one of my Econ professors. I walk into his office and proceed to lose my social skills all over the floor.

“Hi, I’m Jen”

“I’m …uh…in your class that starts in an hour….money and finance…uh…I mean banking.”

“How may I help you?”

At this point I almost vomit, barely recover, consider actually, physically running away and say something like, “They say to meet teachers and so I’m here to meet with you and bond with you – not like that – I’m very happily married to my wife – wait, that came out wrong … I’m the wife…nice to meet you, want to bond?”

I am not editing this to try and make it funnier. This is seriously how badly I tanked.

There was a minor recovery period as we talked about our kids’ names and my dogs’ names and his cats’ names. Then I said something about not naming my daughter Ophelia (usually good for a laugh) and he looked me dead in the eye and said, “Why?”

“Um, she kind of killed herself.” he said, “She went mad, too, but that was a story.”

“Yes, I guess I’m superstitious about names. Don’t name your kids after gods, characters who met a bad end, or a popular name.”

He brightened and we talked for a bit about the absolute insanity of the name Jennifer in the 70’s.

I assure you my exit was about as horrific as my entrance.

The best part? I have to keep doing this until the semester ends. I have to convince him I’m amazing and someone he really wants to write a glowing recommendation for.

This is way more difficult than studying for the LSAT was!

Two Days ‘Till Testing

If you’ve seen me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably heard me talk about the LSAT.

Why I’m even considering law school is a whole other issue.

The test is Saturday. The day after tomorrow. So – as is my way – I’m an anxiety attack just waiting to happen.

My poor husband.

But, there is a bright side! In 48 hours I will be sitting in a classroom at Northwestern with my analog watch and small mountain of No.2 Ticonderoga pencils. About 55 hours from right now it will be over, and I will be able to relax.

There’s a bottle of champagne in my fridge, chilling, waiting for Saturday afternoon…I can’t wait!!

No, Really, Advise Already

There is one advisor I’ve been trying to get in touch with since summer. It’s the pre-law advisor.

For some reason every time I ask a question he’s right there throwing back quesions and sending me this “what you need to know before considering law school” word document that is really not very helpful at all. It’s the equivalent of handing your 14-year-old daughter a document telling her what percentage of people get STDs when they have sex and how much time it takes to raise a child because you could very well get pregant.

Basic scare tactics.

Which might scare me if I wasn’t so angry that my classes are a walk in the ever-lovin’ park.

On the bright side the head of the Economics Department is going to meet with me next week. I’m excited. I hope she’s as great as I’ve heard, because I need some help from someone who knows what the hell they’re doing.

Your Ideology is Showing

I go to a school that talks a LOT about social justice. So, you won’t be surprised to know it skews really liberal/progressive.

Normally, I don’t have an issue with this. I can roll with it and I agree with what I agree with and let go of the other stuff.

But sometimes, things happen and my brain latches on and doesn’t want to let go.

Example: I sent an Ayn Rand quote to one of my teachers. The odds one of my professors doesn’t detest Ayn Rand is pretty low. I knew this going in but was buoyed by the study of ideology vs. Theory and how ignoring someone’s work because of their ideology is bad. (I think this was to ease us into The Communist Manifesto by Marx, but I tend to take a broader view).

So I send the quote over and received a response that included as its opening line,”I am not a fan of Ayn Rand, but this quote is right on the mark.”

My brain can’t let that go. Something inside of him couldn’t just say, “Thanks.” It had to be qualified. I want so badly to respond with either, “Really? Why are you not fond of her?” or, maybe, “Wait. A professor a progressive school doesn’t like Ayn Rand? You have to be kidding me!”

You know, just to see what he says.

Any suggestions on how I should respond?

The Difference Between Bloggers and Writers

Everyone sees bloggers and writers as being enemies.

Except most bloggers and writers.

To me, the biggest difference is editing. Writers either have an editor or edit their own work multiple times before submitting it for publication. Some bloggers – okay, a metric ton of bloggers – think having a blog means never having to say, “Let’s reread this!”

I’m lucky. I know a LOT of bloggers that edit and rewrite and produce high-quality material. Of course, they consider themselves writers using the medium of blogging to get their stories out…not one of those bloggers. (Emphasis usually theirs, not mine.) But there are entire communities built up around the raw, un-edited realness of the first draft. Now there are entire groups that feel editing is somehow less authentic than a well-edited version of the same story.

Definitions of edit are also varied. Some believe that edit means leaving something out. Others believe that editing means polishing work so the true meaning really shines through. Editing can mean less possibility for misunderstanding and others believe editing is not authentic.

Of course, I have yet to hear anyone judge how they write as not being the right way.

Which is where I’m different. I wrote this paper – a personal statement – for the law school summer institute I’m attending next week. It went through two weeks of intense edits by not only me but my husband (an excellent editor) and a very intelligent friend who is really pesky about language. When it was finished it was so different from the original you would not have known they came from the same process if you read them side-by-side. It had different examples and different phrasing but it was so perfect I still want to frame it and hang it on the wall as the first 500 words I’ve put together that really, REALLY said what I meant to say.

So, for now, there will probably be fewer weekly posts here. My hope and goal is that when I do post, it is a well-edited article rather than a random spewing of facts.

I am not a writer – except in the sense we are all writers – but I want to do right by the medium, my own talent, and the people who take the time to read. I want to produce quality work and, hopefully, in producing quality work regularly I will learn how to produce quality faster and easier than I am currently able.

So, the real answer is, “It depends.” Writers can be bloggers and bloggers can be writers – but the terms are for different things. Blogging is a medium, and the medium alone is not the message – even though it contributes to the message and gives the message nuance and flavor and depth.

Marshall McLuhan had it more than half right – but as any good blogger knows … if you don’t take it all the way you won’t have the controversy that gets you comments!