Life history and subtractive schooling

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Like others who look like me, I lived a lot of my life not even knowing I had an identity or realizing I had a culture. When I went to school, I didn’t really notice it at the time, but all of my friends looked like me.  For the most part my teachers looked like me.  I lived in a country with two official languages, however I was monolingual and to my utter dismay spoke only English.  So did my parents, playmates, and teachers.  Having no point of comparison I thought the curriculum at school was pretty standard.  I realize now that it was white and Euro-centric.  I’m revealing my age, but in elementary school I actually read those Dick and Jane books.  The people in books looked like me.  It wasn’t until high school that a teacher chose the story of Shanawdithit (the last surviving Beothuck Indian) to dramatize, and I realized that life is lived from multiple perspectives, but that history is generally recounted from a dominant perspective. Both my parents finished high school, but neither had completed college degrees.  Dropping out of school was not only not an option, but university was definitely in the cards, even if we had to count on scholarships and financial aid to swing it.  In other words, I had what Bourdieu and others termed “cultural capital”.  The knowledge and skills my parents gave me were recognized and valued in school.  There was no cultural disconnect or discontinuity.  In addition, I had teachers who cared about me and my success.  Sure, when my friends from high school get together nowadays, like most people recalling the past we remember funny moments, recount instances of petty injustice, or tell stories of daring misdeeds.  The reality was that I was fortunate to have at least one teacher each year who connected with me.  I still remember Mrs. Powers telling me I could be an artist and Miss Carroll complimenting me on a logical argument.   Plus, after school activities engaged me.  From debate team to Glee Club, I was connected to the school.  Although we  didn’t  have a college counselor at my school, I had two parents who talked to me about the higher ed path.  Frequently.  In sum, my schooling was additive.

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Living in a Digital World, part 5 — Help me, Wikipedia! You’re my only hope.

As you may have noticed, on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, Wikipedia didn’t work.

Male with black tape across mouth bearing words "content blocked"

Image cc license from Flickr user brianjmatis:

Wikipedia and a wide range of other sites including blogs like BoingBoing went black and many other sites including Google and Flavorwire used censored logos and content in protest against legislation proposed in Congress to protect copyright.  The two pieces of legislation, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), would ostensibly block sites that illegally provide copyrighted content for free, but would also have a detrimental effect on access to websites and information legally and legitimately available on the Internet.

On Wednesday morning, I received one request from a colleague for clarification on why Wikipedia wasn’t available.  For another user, I tried unsuccessfully to track down the posts I’d seen the previous day about how to make one’s blog go dark;  the posts themselves were difficult to find because the blogs supporting them were on strike. For my own benefit, I found myself visiting sites I knew were down, simply to see what was up in place of the usual content.  A couple library-themed online comics and most of the library-related blogs I follow had messages in protest and links to resources for learning more about the laws and contacting government representatives. I eagerly read the information posted on the website of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and thoroughly enjoyed the LOLcats protest video with appropriate lyrics set to the tune of Don McLean’s signature song “American Pie.”

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Tech tools and tryability

Image courtesy of Black & Decker

Recently, I blogged about analyzing qualitative interview data.  Using a constant comparative method, themes emerged upon multiple readings of the data.  Done by hand, the process was laborious, time-consuming, and highly instructive.  In other words, I learned a lot.  However, as in other areas of life (electric screw drivers, anyone?) having the right tool for the job can save an enormous amount of time, not to mention muscle power.  Time and energy that might be spent in better ways, say in writing up the analysis or catching up on your professional reading, or even polishing off the last of your online Christmas shopping.  So when I received over 50 pages of newly transcribed interview data, I decided it might be time to investigate tech tools to do the job more efficiently, even more precisely.

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Tackling the Funding Question

I love the quote that is underneath the photo to the left.  And I loved it when my advisor told me that I would “miss 100% of the buses I didn’t try to catch.”  This seems like an apt metaphor for the funding game and the confidence hump that we must all get over in order to recognize our work is “worth it”.  I recently submitted a small, within-university grant for a pilot project I want to test.  However, when it came time to put the proposal together, my enthusiasm started to wane   What if the proposal isn ‘t what they are looking for?  How likely was it really that I would get the grant?  I felt myself talking my way out of applying bit by bit.

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Qualitative methods: the role of the researcher

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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.

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Living in a digital world, part 2 — blogs as publications

pen, ethernet cable, and keyboard

Image CC license from Flickr user Damien Pollet:

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”.

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Qualitative methods: data analysis

It’s fall.  The white, wet blanket of last weekend’s unseasonable snowstorm has melted;  the sky is an unblemished, brassy blue; streaky orange, red, and yellow leaves spiral off and skitter underfoot, and the markets overflow with pumpkins of all varieties: long neck, sugar, Autumn Gold’s and miniatures.  (How many ways are there to prepare pumpkin?)

Recently, I was asked to analyze and write a narrative for a qualitative interview data set.    I hadn’t done the interviews myself, although I was familiar with the purpose, participants, and interview questions.  So I started by reading, and re-reading the interview transcripts.  While walking to the local grocer to get the ingredients for pumpkin muffins, and also to clear my head, I thought about making meaning from pages of qualitative data.  It’s one thing to read about data analysis and quite another thing to actually do it.  Which is probably why my advisor thought that it would be such good pre-proposal practice.

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