Attending a professional conference can serve a variety of purposes; among them the opportunity to deepen one’s core knowledge in the field, attend paper presentations of research in progress, subject one’s own work to the scrutiny of informed peers, and be inspired by conference speakers, often the field’s established scholars and thought leaders. The novelty provided by a break in the daily routine, along with the chance to interact with like-minded colleagues promotes reflection and renewal. As an added bonus, attending a high-caliber professional conference can unsettle, discomfit, and disconcert you. Better it can interrupt any number of your most dearly held assumptions. In other words, it can mess with your mind.
Recently, I attended the annual convention for University Council for Educational Administration in Pittsburgh. Thankfully, the presenting to informed colleagues part took place on day one. I made a small contribution to a paper and was grateful to get my two minutes of (nerve racking) fame over with so soon, leaving me free to enjoy the rest of the sessions. Paper sessions are a form of academic blitzkrieg where scholars have a scant 12 minutes to present research in progress. In short order one can ponder prevailing discourse analysis in policy, principals’ career trajectories in low-performing schools, heteronormativity in curriculum and hiring decisions, and social justice principal practice in successful ‘outlier’ schools. It often helps to get out and walk. In the late fall sunshine on a break between sessions, walking Pittsburgh’s downtown Strip District interrupted an unexamined assumption. The city is lively and personable, not industrial or gritty.
As I wrote in my first post at Research Salad, we compile statistics at our library. We track number of visitors, number of queries, number of consultations and loans, and number of publications catalogued and uploaded. In previous libraries, we’ve had Access databases to help us track and process this information. Where I currently work, without time to develop a similar system, I have a series of spreadsheets to collect the same data. However, these numbers are not all I collect.
When I started work here, I received a very good piece of advice: remember to thank those who help you and keep track of the thanks you receive.
As we have alluded to in previous posts, Google Reader has undergone a radical transformation, and KRED and I are currently reassessing our feed reader options. The redesign has us thrown a bit. For the last two years, I have been using Google Reader to keep my many feeds organized, bookmark articles for reading when I had down time, and share interesting finds effortlessly with friends and colleagues. However, with the push to have more users taking advantage of Google Plus (Google’s Facebook-equivalent social networking site), there has been a paring down or incorporation of the tools’ best attributes to enhance Google Plus. While Google Plus is being tweaked, the former standalone tools are being changed in dramatic ways, and Google Reader fell victim in this latest redesign. With that being said, I am not left with a second tool that has shifted so dramatically it is no longer useful to me.
So, what happens now?
“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” — unknown
“If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, and it hits a mime, does anyone care?” — Gary Larson, The Complete Farside 1980-1994
If a TV show host and political commentator states that libraries are irrelevant, that no one needs or uses them, should we freak out, disregard him as ignorant, or take a different tack?
One of the most powerful graduate school experiences I had drove home the point that we all “see” the world through our own filters. In small groups, my classmates and I were asked to visit a local coffee shop, sit together, observe the environment for 20 minutes and write a description of what we saw. Then we were to share and compare our field notes. Of course, our notes shared similarities; after all we were in a small, communal space. We all noted the menu, the number of tables, and an overstuffed couch in the corner. However, we had each noticed different things. One of my classmates, who’d built furniture as a hobby, included a lengthy description of the chairs. Another, the mother of two children, focused on describing the play area at the back of the shop where the owner’s four year old was playing. Coming from a family of movie buffs, I described in detail the vintage film posters on the walls. In short, what we noticed revealed as much about ourselves as it did about our surroundings. In a way, it reminded me of that cartoon where a group of people were looking at a house. The real estate agent saw her commission; the young couple saw their first home; the roofer saw loose shingles: well, you get the idea.
While I get mired in the details of qualitative research and the intense focus of a dissertation, it has occurred to me that I need to find ways to keep current with the world at large. I’m a voracious consumer of information, so this is not anything new to me. But I was thinking about how you can so easily get lost in the details and forget the big picture. Why am I doing this research? What do I want to accomplish? How does this fit in to the world around me?
For me, the purpose of my research is hopefully to find new ways and refine traditional ways of engaging students in the learning process. I hope from what they would learn from my courses or curriculum is not what to think, but how to think. By developing a critical eye, engaging in the world around them, and practicing 21st Century Skills, they are poised to tackle the critical problems and opportunities that face our world today. From this base, they can go anywhere, and can see that they are truly an influencer as a global citizen. While discipline-specific knowledge is essential and will be the crux of innovation, there is something to be said for keeping an eye on the big picture, seeing the opportunities when they arise, and being open to interdisciplinary collaboration. So, in short, the purpose of this blog post is to talk a bit about those resources that help you to think beyond your discipline-focus and shake off the tunnel vision that sometimes comes when working on a project like a dissertation.
After a week and a half away from work, the volume of unread messages in my e-mail inbox had shot up, as one might expect. However, careful clearing away of the clutter made opening my inbox far less daunting on my first day back. What was less manageable, though, was the “1000+” on my Google Reader and the loss of the Share functionality. Much as I wished to, I hesitated to delete or mark all new posts as read, analogous to an approach recommended by Danah Boyd for avoiding e-mail overload following a sabbatical. There were gems in that mountain of blogposts, I was certain. A simple slash-and-burn method of attacking the feed reader overload would have meant missing out on this jewel in particular: Katy Meyers’s post at GradHacker entitled, “Taking a Chance: My Blog is a Publication”.