The picture at the top of this page is my kitchen floor, where the pine board half of my floor meets the oak board half of my floor in front of where the old dishwasher used to be. If you know me or have seen me in person during the last several weeks, you know that I have been working to renovate my kitchen, and as most renovation projects go, this renovation has been fun, hard, exhausting, frustrating, and expensive. As I sit down to write this post, we just have to:

  • Finish the floors
  • Install some countertop brackets
  • Wait for the countertop guys to install the countertop

We’ll deal with the walls, backsplash and lighting some time later, I think. (My wife, the project manager, has a better sense of this timeline.)

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Normally on this website (although “normal” implies a consistent routine of posting which is not something I’ve ever done), I post about things I’ve been working on, conference papers and presentations, or things related to my classes. I don’t use this space very rigorously or vigorously, and I don’t think I’ve written about my home improvement projects before.

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I do want to use this space more and better as part of my professional profile, so I use the metaphor of construction as a way into introducing several interesting and exciting things that are in progress right now and about which I plan to post more and more frequently.

Back when I was first learning web design, I remember the argument about avoiding the “Under Construction” signage: If it’s not all the way done, just don’t post it. The advent of blogging, though, shifted that logic into the perpetual beta limbo of works in progress, such that a single post is more about the present time and state of things as they are, and not always the announcement of a thing already done, a freshly delineated facet of the jewel that is a digital identity.

Nova1466underconstructionThis practice is something I’m trying to learn, for a variety of things. One is that I want to encourage my students to narrate their own learning processes, and if I’m asking them to do it, I should be able to model that. More than anything, then, this blog post is about embracing the messiness of now and resisting that unattainable perfection of “eventually.” So here, briefly, are some things in my life besides my kitchen that are currently “Under Construction.”

 

TTI Fellowship

TTI stands for “Teaching Technology and Innovation,” and it describes the unit at UMW that encompasses the CTE&I (Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation), DTLT (the Division of Teaching and Learning Technology), and the DKC (Digital Knowledge Center). This year, DTLT is undergoing some major changes. We are sad that some people will be leaving UMW’s community, but excited about what the future may hold with some new people joining us.

My role in this time of transition is to server as a “TTI Fellow” for the 2015-16 year. This is a new opportunity Jeff McClurken created this year to help faculty development and to support some other TTI initiatives. I think this is a good idea anyway, since it puts another faculty voice at the table in DTLT and on the other side, it helps me support my colleagues — e.g. if someone has a tech question, they can now ask and I can try to help without it being just a “favor” they’re asking. It’s actually part of my job now to help figure this stuff out.

There are two of us this year, and each of us came up with a specific proposal for how we would help support TTI. My co-fellow, Roberta Gentry, will be working out some initiatives and programming around distance and online learning, and I’ll basically be hanging out in DTLT and helping support whatever I can. I will also be overseeing and steering the pile of interesting, obsolete technology currently residing on the fourth floor of the ITCC. More on that below.

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DTLT

As I mentioned above, DTLT is undergoing some major changes in personnel. Tim Owens sort of left last year but is sort of still around, Ryan Brazell left in the Spring, Andy Rush is leaving (today, as I write this, is his last day), and Jim Groom is headed to Italy any day now. If you’re counting, that just leaves Lisa Ames and Martha Burtis as the only two long term DTLT staff remaining. That’s a lot! Looking on from the outside, one might well wonder what sort of terrible workplace environment would precipitate such a mass exodus, but while I won’t and can’t speak for everyone, I know that each has independent and good reasons for pursuing other opportunities.

I will definitely miss my friends. I’ve been hanging out in DTLT a lot over the last year, and the sense of community around DTLT was a big part of just making it through last year — by all accounts the worst school year in recent memory with tragedy upon tragedy.

But DTLT will survive. What Jim, Andy, and Ryan are leaving behind is a sense of energy and innovation, and programs built to live on without them. And we’re building that new program with some exciting new hires. We already have Jessica Reingold onboard as an Instructional Technology Specialist; she’s a former student and she’s great! We also can now officially share the other two hires, Lee Skallerup Bessette as another ITS, and Jesse Stommel as our new Director of DTLT.

We often talk about DTLT as the ed tech dream team, and it really has been, but I’m starting to see another dream team coming together and it’s very exciting. I’m still sad, though.

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The “Console Living Room”

Now this! This is something I’m excited about. This past year, Jim Groom and I put together a technology exhibit on the fourth floor of the ITCC. We called it the “Console Living Room” (not realizing that that phrase was already exclusively associated with an Archive.org initiative), and we built it out as a re-creation of a media-saturated living room circa 1985. We built wood paneled walls, stocked it with furniture from UMW’s surplus warehouse, and acquired as many TVs, game consoles and games as we could. It’s pretty great. We’ve received coverage in the school newspaper, UMW public relations, and we briefly made the front page of r/gaming.

We held several events and teaching sessions around the material in the living room, and we invited Michael Branson-Smith as a guest artist who set us up with over the air 80s’ TV broadcasting. Jim has done a great job blogging about it, which is awesome, and a great demonstration of how Jim’s enthusiasm for this project is really what got it off the ground and really brought a lot of people on board.

Now that Jim is leaving, it falls on me to steer this thing on my own, and I have ideas. For one, it needs a new name, so after considering and rejecting many alternatives, I’m resigned to calling it simply the “Digital Anachronism Project,” or DAP for short. I will hopefully have much more to say about this soon, but one thing I’m planning is a 90’s focus for Spring 2016, which should be fun. It’ll be interesting to see how our students, most of whom were born in the mid-90s, think about their relationship to that decade’s media.

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This Website

The space where you’re reading this — what I think of as “my website” — is also undergoing a significant change, and like everything else in this blog post, it’s a work in progress. The main thing is I have finally given in and crossed over to WordPress. If I remember correctly, the journey that brought me here has gone something like this: Static HTML -> Blosxom -> Blosxom / Apache SSI hybrid -> Drupal -> Anchor -> WordPress. I never fully “moved in” to my Anchor site for various reasons. Mostly, it was just that as lightweight as Anchor is, pretty much any time you want to do anything at all complicated, you pretty much have to code it yourself. Generally speaking, I’m OK with that, but at the same time, there are other systems that have already invented those wheels, and taking advantage of those existing systems lets me focus on other things.

I once wrote a post about why I liked Drupal and why I didn’t trust the WYSIWYG assumptions of WordPress, but hey, I can evolve. Moreover, it’s not like having an easy place to write prevents me from also hand-coding HTML when I feel like it, and, naturally, I’ve already hacked around on this WordPress installation with a plugin of PHP tweaks and a custom child theme. Ultimately, though, WordPress is great at getting people from nothing to something, and that’s something I need for my students to experience. Likewise, it makes sense for me to use the same tools so I can offer better support and modeling. I’m also working on a super-stripped down WP theme designed just for maintaining and updating a CV, so that’s fun.

Besides blogging, the other two big things I want to document and archive on this WP site are my projects and my courses, both of which I’m doing with Custom Types. Much work left to do there.

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Running

I enjoy running, so much so that I frequently resort to thinking or speaking of myself as “a runner” when I think about my persona and identity. Lately, though — as in, since 2012 — I’ve been in and out of consistent running because of various things, mostly injuries. At the moment, I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten past a case of plantar fasciitis (wearing a night split has made a big difference), and now I’m trying to get a handle on my running and exercise so I can re-start the slow process of getting in shape. I know from past experience that it’s dangerous to set performance goals at this stage of recovery, so while my ultimate goal is to get back to the point where I can shoot for a Boston-qualifying marathon, my midterm and shortterm goals are just to return to the habit of running.

Consistency is always hard for me, unless it’s absolute consistency. Thus, while I’ve had successful run-streaks of 100+ days (averaging around 4 miles a day for one of those streaks), maintaining a MWF schedule is much harder. It would be unwise to attempt a new #runstreak yet, so as an alternative, I’m going to try for a different kind of daily commitment with a #corestreak. I’ll log this on Strava and see how long I can keep a streak of doing some kind of core exercise every day.

I realize, by the way, that no one at all cares how many crunches I can do or how long I can hold a plank. By discussing this here in a place that is technically public, I’m committing myself to this in a way that, theoretically, someone could call me on it later if I fail to maintain consistently.

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The Kitchen

Finally (because holy crap this post is long), my kitchen remains a major work in progress. When I started writing this post, we hadn’t yet finished the floors, installed the brackets or the countertops. Since this has taken me so long to finish this post, I’m pleased to report that our floor is sort of done (we don’t like it, so it’s not “really” done), the brackets went in pretty easily with just some minor last minute carpentry, and the countertops are firmly in place on top. There’s some trim work left, but the major remaining issue is the backsplash. I’m looking forward to getting that done and not thinking about the kitchen for a while. It’s been fun acquiring the tools, skills, and knowledge necessary to get this kitchen sorted, but we’re definitely feeling the DIY burnout.

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And that’s a lot of works in progress. I write all this not because I think it’s interesting, by the way, but really to clear the log jam of other things that I’ve wanted to post on this blog. I’ve got like 6 draft posts started, but I felt like I couldn’t post them until I had sort of introduced this new space and transitioned into a different mindset with regard to what this blog is for. This post is my attempt to do that, so hopefully this will free me up to actually finish those other posts.

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All the GIFs in this post are from Jason Scott’s archive of Under Construction GIFs rescued from GeoCities.

  • Stacy Bailey Whalen

    Good post, Zach.