They might walk again !! Really cool research I heard about in a podcast.

Listening to a Science Friday podcast in the car this morning to pass the time and WOW … this segment played:  “Reawakening Limbs After Years of Paralysis”  xray from science friday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what the Science Friday website says: Reporting in the journal Brain, researchers write of reawakening the legs of four men paralyzed from the waist down. They did so by implanting electronic devices in the men’s spines. The devices send out electrical stimulation that re-trains the nerves to listen more carefully for signals, allowing voluntary movements after years of paralysis. Study author Susan Harkema of the University of Louisville and Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Bioimaging and Bioengineering, discuss the device and the path towards commercially available treatments.

Nice to hear some positive news, something that brings people hope.  The researchers talked about how the spinal cord might be more “intelligent” than they’ve believed … how the body might be able to recover the ability for movement with a combination of stimulation and specialized physical therapy.  Okay, I didn’t follow everything they said, but I did think – this is wonderful.

Would there be people in wheelchairs who would choose NOT to walk again?  If someone’s been paralyzed for years, if that’s become part of one’s accepted identity – would the change be too frightening?

Most people would probably leap at the chance (pun intended), but even positive change can be scary – so I can imagine that it’d be a complicated path.  Of course, according to the researchers, it takes lots of focused work over months too, so it’s not like they implant a device and people get up and walk a few miles.  Way slower than that … which would also make it easier to accept and embrace.

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Revisiting my last post as another semester winds down

College is not wasted on the young.  The student who made me sad in the last post has turned out to have the instincts of a reporter.  He’s not my most disciplined writer – so he doesn’t pull the best grades – but he goes out and finds stories that could be published in any news outlet.  Because they’re newsworthy.

I’ve had so much fun teaching media writing this semester.  We have to be generalists at Longwood; some classes feel like more of a stretch than others.  Teaching Media Reporting and Writing feels like breathing – teaching it comes that naturally.

Oh yeah, it’s a lot of work.  Lots of reading articles and giving specific feedback.  Depending on your perspective, I have the luxury and/or the misfortune of teaching 29 people in two class sections how to newsgather and mediawrite.

Of course, it’s the 80 I teach in three other class sections that brings me to the semester I’ve had.  Media & Society – a range-y course in which we struggle with two questions: how does media affect society?  And how does society create and control media?  Like I said – a range-y survey course in which we cover too much.  My goal, however, is not the content as much as teaching critical thinking, particularly media criticism.  This can be a lot of fun, but it means moving beyond multiple-choice tests and into the realm of blogging and small group presentations and writing.

That’s right – more reading of student writing, more feedback on student writing. And that’s time intensive.   Messier than A B C D.

But that’s what these college students need.  They need practice writing and they need my feedback on how to do it better.  And, like the rest of us, they figure out what they want to say be writing it out.  Epiphanies abound.

And I guess that’s why I’m here, teaching at Longwood U, working so hard that I neglect both my personal life and the rest of my professional life … this blog, for example, and my Eastern Shore Stories Project.

Is college wasted on the young?

I teach media studies at a small public university in central Virginia.  My classes are filled with students from the region – we’re a well-kept Virginia secret – and almost all the students are between the ages of 19 and 22.   I do have one older gentleman in one of my classes and he is excited to be in school.  So excited to be learning.  I understand that feeling, having chosen to get my Master’s and PhD as a “non-traditional” student.

Learning can be fun.

On Thursday during class, we left the classroom and walked the campus.  The course is media reporting & writing. The topic of the day was “where do story ideas come from?”  So much of university work is purely intellectual, but media writing is not.  It involves all of a person’s senses, with their curiosity completely engaged, to become an effective media reporter and writer.  So we walked the campus in search of stories.

Found them we did.  We walked into buildings that most of us hadn’t entered before.  Talked about history that predated any of our tenures at Longwood U.   Back in the day, there was no central pedestrian commons uniting the campus – there were streets that locals used to get across town.  Even after the commons was built, at least one older local resident drove down the sidewalks and flowerbeds – he still thought it was a city street.

In the music building, two professors emerged from their offices to talk with us.  More ideas for potential stories.  One eloquently urged us to explore the basement practice area, to talk with music students sequestered there – “for whom the homework is never finished.”

“It’s not like math,”  he said to us, “where there are right and wrong answers.  Music students have to practice again and again.  And to be self-critical.  Did they get the fingering, the feel of the piece?”  A solid feature profile idea from a chance encounter.  It was better than I hoped we’d experience on our walk around campus.

I also had a student disappear from the walk.  He apparently thought that a walk around campus was his chance to escape from class.   He’s the same student who keeps asking me why we’re doing things – “what was the point of that?” is his general approach.  It makes me sad – his youthful arrogance will cause him to miss so much.  And he’ll likely be paying student loans for years on classes he barely attended.

He makes me think college is wasted on the young.

I can see the forest, but it’s a blur!

You know that moment when you’re riding a roller coaster and you’re poised at the top of the first rise for split second before the coaster releases and barrels forward?

Everest roller coaster, Walt Disney World, November 2009

Click, click, click … those few seconds of anticipation …  excitement and terror threaded together.

I know I’m not going to die, but as I slam through the turns, I feel like I might.

That’s the way I feel right now,  a few days away from the start of the fall semester.

The job search is over.  I accepted a position teaching communications full-time at Longwood University.     This fall, I’m teaching multiple sections of Public Speaking and Media & Society.

Meanwhile, my dissertation has been revised twice and is  ready to go to the full committee, with a defense planned for this fall.

It looks like I might graduate in December.

Oh yeah, and the ESVHS & I were awarded a second grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to continue collecting farm life interviews for the Eastern Shore Stories project.

There’s more, but I’m breathless.

Wheeeeee … here I go !

Does this mean if I look behind me I’ll see the forest now?  I think the answer is yes, but the trees are a blur ’cause I’m moving too fast.

I’m either writing a dissertation or running away from home …

I’ve carved out a few days to write – away from Richmond and my family – hanging out on the Eastern Shore … just me, the dogs, limited access to wifi, and spotty cell reception.

I’m restless … that’s usually the case on the first day I’m here alone with a project.  I can feel momentum building … I’m hoping that an explosion of words, phrases, sentences that make sense will follow.   Right now, ideas and connections are bouncing around just at the edge of articulation.

Solitude is good for this stage of writing – allows stuff to perk without having to explain my not-yet-formed ideas.   Of course, I’ve also been fantasizing about a new career direction in solar panel installation and I took a nap after an early lunch of leftover quiche.

Since yesterday I’ve read most of one book, and skimmed two others. Matthew Crawford’s book Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work is one I’d like to share with everyone I know … as well as future students.  Seems apt reading for someone finishing a doctorate.

His analysis about the value of skilled manual work is useful as I try to parse out the general sense I got from the farm life oral histories I’ve collected about the intrinsic reward in knowing how to do things.   People don’t usually state it directly … but knowing soil and microclimates, plowing straight rows without GPS systems, growing quality vegetables, being self-sufficient … a grounded pride in knowing how to do stuff comes through in the interviews.   That’s what my fourth chapter is about, among other things.

Now I can add writing a blog entry to my list of moodling activities.  All part of the process … luckily I’ve done enough writing to recognize it for what it is – a priming of the pump, so to speak.  Either that, or I’m using the dissertation as an excuse to run away from home for a few days.

The future of universities: a virtual reality?

This morning. I stumbled across a line of questioning about the future of universities that I find unsettling, probably because I’ve invested a lot of time and have developed quite a few skills as a writer and teacher and would like to land on  solid ground in the near future. Specifically, a March 7 “Wired Campus” blog in the Chronicle of Higher Ed asked the question: Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion?

The question is a bit doomsday-esque … but bricks and mortars organizations are proving to be at risk in the digital revolution.  The blog post is an interview with Richard DeMillo and Paul Baker, director and associate director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities, who consider their center an equivalent to a Silicon Valley garage for higher education.  I  don’t know about that – seems like an officially run center located in an institution could never be the equivalent of an entrepreneur’s garage.

Still …  in a February 22 blog post for the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, DeMillo writes that “incumbents” misread new technologies and become “relics” before they even realize what is happening.  He uses the newspaper industry as an example, which does support his point and makes me hyperventilate a bit.

The Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) is supposed to encourage innovation in university teaching and research … incubate risk-taking to figure out what best practices in the 21st century digital universe would look like for higher education.    They’ve got lots of good ideas – which may get lost somewhat in the doomsday language – and yet it’s the crisis language that got my attention and probably a lot of other people’s attention too.

Jeff Selingo, editorial director for The Chronicle of Higher Education, devoted his Sept 27, 2011, blogpost to the opening of C21U. He called it “If Engineers Were to Rethink Higher Ed’s Future.”  At the end of his blog, he writes: “At a kickoff event for the center … I moderated a wide-ranging discussion with some leading thinkers on the future of higher ed, and among my questions was this: If you had a chance to run this center, what one project would you put on its agenda?”

Some of the ideas he found most interesting are ones that I agree with as directions for universities:  Improve Social Engagement, Create Incubators, Interactive Learning, and Stop Teaching Subjects.  Luckily, I’m studying and teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University – a public university that is exploring these in pockets all over campus.

Put in this context, perhaps it’s a future to be embraced.  Is the old version, based on medieval monastic training, really working that well for most people?

I’d be sorry to see a business model applied, however, since there are research questions – especially in the humanities – that need to be asked and there does need to be a place of reflection to do so.  That’s what universities have provided a space for and I’d hate to see that disappear – the same way I treasure a brick & mortar bookstore – for discovery.  I don’t always know what I’m looking for until I stumble across it and I’ve found the same thing to be true in education.   Algorithms can be too smart for lucky accidents and that’s not a world I want to live in.

On seeing the forest …

I’ve been in a job search frenzy for the past week or so.  Starting to lose sight of why I enrolled in an alternative, interdisciplinary PhD program in Media, Art, and Text.  Starting to think that dragging my family all over the US in search of that tenure-track faculty position is what I did this for. That was never my intention.  Never.

Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast, summer 2011

Like the picture?  I took it this summer on our family trip – inserted here simply because I like it.  Okay, and because it has trees.  So … I never intended to chase after that elusive tenure-track position.  I’m a teacher by trade, a good one.  I’ve been working on my Teaching Portfolio this morning – adding a few things, modifying a few things.

Because I’m working on an application to teach core communications classes, I pulled up the Core Curriculum Course I designed to take another look at it.  I call the course: Obsession & Outliers, Insiders & Outsiders: Whose Story Is It?   The idea is that I use interesting course material from media studies as a Trojan horse to provide students a place to practice and improve core academic skills:  presentation skills, writing, information fluency (we used to call it research), critical thinking.

Here’s the syllabus: Obsession & Outliers, Insiders & Outsiders: Whose Story Is It?

So what was my intention in pursuing the Media, Art & Text PhD? I do want to teach at the University level – I do it well and I needed the paper credential to have a shot at earning a living wage.  I wanted to continue to improve as a writer. I’ve done that. I’m also gaining skills as an audio documentary producer. And an oral historian. I designed my own website and know enough about coding to clean up the posts on my blogs.

Oregon Coast

The forest? I’m kinda deep in the trees right now.

Applying for jobs that sound interesting and that I’m qualified to do. In places we might consider living. ‘Cause it’s the next right thing to do, sort of like getting this degree was the next right thing to do.

“Way will open” – that’s what Quakers say. Kinda like what you see in this picture, also from our summer trip.

At the start of this trail, I smelled something strong, with a twinge of ammonia. I thought it was urine.  My assumption was drunks partying and peeing in the woods, but the park rangers said that a mountain lion had been there, that the scent was hers.

There’s much I don’t know.  I do know, because I walked it, that the end of this sandy trail through the woods opened onto the vista I posted in the other photograph.  Sand dunes and small stands of trees and the Pacific Ocean stretching out beyond everything.  I was with people I love on a beautiful day, in a beautiful place.

When I looked back, I could see the forest.

what is it about writing? … a leap across a gap?

I was updating my links and found this incredible post from Jonathan Harris – August 21, 2010.  “What is it about writing?”   Worth reading all the way through.

This post was part of his Today project, where he posted a photograph and usually a story a day, starting when he turned thirty. He kept it up for longer than a year … here’s a film about the project:

His work is an interesting mix – the word innovative doesn’t quite cover what is neat about what he does. Wish there were more web artists like him – or maybe I just haven’t found them yet.  Too many web artists are caught up in the newness of the medium … I don’t think we’ve seen what this is going to become yet.

Jonathan Harris website

on limits and happiness

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor, studies happiness.

What he’s found is that our frontal lobes give us the ability to “manufacture happiness” … so – what makes someone unhappy is how they think about their circumstances, NOT the circumstances they finds themselves in. Hmmm – so that saying, attitude is everything, from that hokey motivational poster on the high school classroom wall is on to something. I’m still not convinced … but his talk on TED Talks is persuasive.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Here’s the New York Times piece I found first:
“What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous”
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taking risks

the glory of a snow day

Among other places I had to be yesterday was a meeting at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. I teach a class there called Playing with Words – truly an exploratory writing class. We occasionally disturb the class near us by laughing too much. It’s a class about letting go – about discovery – about play. It’s about taking creative risks, something I don’t give myself enough credit for knowing how to do.