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We can haz marriage?

So, Emily and I were going to go get our Marriage License forms today from Forsyth County (about an hour from her parents place), but then late last night we realized I would need something with my Social on it (like my Social Security card). Well, I called this morning and indeed, as it says on their site, a W2 from work is fine (never mind the fact that mine is web-delivered and looks like something an amateur threw together with a table in a word processor, and that it didn’t have the same address as my driver’s license). So we headed out late from Greensboro, and understandably, Emily was concerned that it’d be like the DMV, where if you don’t go at opening, you’re stuck in a line of disgruntled smelly people for hours. So we left early enough before lunch that the street traffic wasn’t too bad in Winston-Salem, but then we had to find parking…

On their website they listed the street, the lot, and the deck. Well, the deck had confusing signs that made it look reserved, the lot had similar signs, but they were only visible after we had entered it, so on our way out we stopped beside a parking guy in an little electric car to ask him. We rolled the window down and i kind of shouted (?) across emily, “Excuse me, we are trying to go in there to get our marriage license, do y’all know where we could park?” And bless their hearts, the two guys (parking man and security guard) couldn’t help but light right up, and the parking said, “Y’all can just park right over there by the blue van, it’s on me today since you’re getting married! Congratulations!” and the security guard said, “and I’ll be in there after you get it for a free 1-minute marriage counseling session!” So, we took our free parking and thanked them, and went into the building.

The building seems very new, it was gorgeous, for a big ol municipal building. There were very clear signs marking our route to the Registrar (Registry?) of Deeds or whatever it was called, up on the 2nd floor. We walked in and much to our delight, there was 1 … “customer” (?) there other than us, and there were 4 open “windows” (more of like a cubicle, but anyways). So she called us right up and couldn’t help but grin with us several times because we just grinned like fools throughout the whole time. After about a quick 7 minutes of checking forms and signing documents (THANKS EMILY FOR FILLING OUT ALL THE PAPER WORK ONLINE IN ADVANCE!), we raised our right hands and swore that everything on the forms was true and that neither of us knew of any legal impediments to our marriage. HOORAY!

So we left there just grinning and happy with our forms in bag, and headed downstairs where our free marriage counselor was perched. The kind old patriarch who had “been married 385 years” basically took 3 minutes and told me that women don’t always say what they mean (completely ignoring Emily’s presence glued to my side the whole time), and then said, well, i guess you can take all that as BS, but congratulations and good luck!

So we left there and had to get lunch, where else to eat in Winston-Salem, but Sweet Potatoes?! SO we parked at a 1-hr parking spot right out front and (I) had a delicious meal (Emily was disappointed with hers, but i’m telling you this place rocks, maybe just don’t get their caesar salad if you’re not big on anchovies or salad dressings).

The day continued on in its glorious fashion, but that will have to wait… I have more wedding to prepare!

World Traveler

I am going to update this post a bit over the next few whiles to tell you about The Great World Travels. Having never been out of the country before (except for a few hours in the Canadian side of Niagra Falls when I was younger (thanks Aunt Mary, Uncle Tom, et al.), I spent the better part of the last month out of the U.S. AND I HAD A BLAST! I learned a ton, networked, and even fell in love with a few locales. For now you’ll have to be satisfied with this short tease of an update, and just know,

A Room of Her Own

I went to my first meeting of the Association for Women in Computing (@VT) last night. (YAY POTUCK!) I have had a scheduling conflict with it all semester, but I finally made it. I already knew many of the people, but it was Great to meet some new faces, especially the undergrads. I had an excellent time.

However, I did have some doubt. While on their website they even say, “By the way, you don’t have to be a woman join AWC! You just need to want to support women in computing!” I was still worried that I was polluting the environment. Plus, I am pretty sure most Universities have policies that mandate that any officially recognized University organization may not discriminate in its membership, at least on some protected group of characteristics (couldn’t find it easily enough in searching VT’s site). While I certainly support women in computing, and look for opportunities to advocate, I think that maybe especially the members who may not know me as well, shy members, or maybe even all of them, I may be spoiling their safe place. Certainly it is a statement of arrogance for me to think that my presence might be enough to make all these women close up. So, call me arrogant.

I was interested in your opinion on this if you ever have an opportunity or interest. I was thinking last night that if I were right (not sure how to know, but I intuit that I could not be wrong), then maybe I can show my support by participating in discussions with the group over emails/forums and maybe participating in some of their larger outings, but that maybe next semester when I should finally be able to avoid scheduling conflicts, I should in fact still not attend their meetings.

Of course, I wonder if whether or not I am there would even matter if there were already other men in attendance. And then I was wondering if they should maybe have some women-only meetings. While I think they may indeed have some women-only meetings, wouldn’t the whole club itself benefit from all of their activities being less inhibited? I don’t need to come rain on their parade to show my support, but I do want to understand their current frustrations, issues, and struggles to help me understand our community. As a (hopeful) future professor, I would really like to be exposed to as many perspectives as possible so that I can try to support women and other minorities wherever I end up, but this would be a very selfish (maybe? sort of) reason to impose on the AWC.

P. S. The title is a reference to Virginia Woolf.

ENGE Reflection: LabVie ROBOTS!

Before Class

What are my goals for this week? What do I want students to learn/do over the next 2-3 class periods? What should they be leaving class with?

This week my goal is to give students an opportunity to be creative in using LabView to solve the robot problem, or if they’re feisty enough (I will prod them) the challenge problem. I would like students to leave class thinking they did something cool that they’d like to discuss with their families over break.

How do I plan to help them learn/do? What educational strategies will I adopt (e.g., active learning, feedback-based instruction)?

I will employ active learning to engage the students in programming the robot. By allowing them to work in groups, those who know how to get started could help other students , and by having the different people working together they may be able to help each other debug.

What problems or challenges might I face?

Some students seem to find LabView difficult. These students in particular may feel intimidated by the robot programs. Also the fact that the students will not be able to run their VIs for themselves before bringing it to me is not a very user-friendly way to program.

After Class

How well do I think my students achieved the learning goals? What evidence do I have?

I think students achieved their goals very well. By working in teams, they were able to troubleshoot and debug together, many even before having to run the code!

What do I think contributed to their success/failure?

I was very intentional about explaining the robot as very simple and basically the same as the circuit they had built earlier in the semester. I was careful to try to walk the thin line between over-emphasizing how simple the problem is, and possibly discouraging those who might have trouble, and reassuring those who were insecure that this was completely within their means.

How does what I learned from these classes contribute to my overall teaching approach?

The students liked when I tried to make the problem seem simple and when I suggested how they might break the problem into simpler sub problems which they could think about first. In the future, I will try to be more intentional about explaining the process of dividing the problem up for conquering. As this is an important skill, I think the students might benefit from me using a similar format to demo the process in several different workshops for different problems.

Active Learning: a Danger to The Man?

Active Learning has been becoming a popular topic in education (Felder & Silverman 1988 and Prince 2004 for example). Indeed many perceive that a change, maybe even a revolution is needed, especially in the engineering classroom. In his Peer Instruction program, Dr. Eric Mazur promotes Active Learning through methods that engage the students by having them answer questions in class and then work with their neighbors to ensure that everyone understands the rationale behind the correct answer. Mazur reminds us of how we tend to have increasing difficulty explaining the introductory concepts in our fields as we dive ever deeper into our academic pursuits of that field. His solution for this, and for the discouragingly, boringly passive lecture classroom is Peer Instruction.
While Active Learning and Peer Instruction in particular, certainly have appeal as a radical change from the methods that seem to be failing today’s students, could these new methods be harmful to students in other dimensions? For example, the academic institutions are not only responsible for educating students in the academic content, but also the academic culture. Brown, Collin, & Duguid (1989) note the importance of “Authentic Activity” and “Cognitive Apprenticeship” in education. If students are educated through Active Learning methods such as Peer Instruction, is it possible that they will miss out on the cultural education? For example, many engineering disciplines have relatively rigid hierarchical structure. This structure is easy to teach with a lecture style presentation of materials. Additionally, if, as in Peer Instruction, novices are teaching each other, it might be difficult to teach the students how to think like (for example) physicists think. On the one hand these diverse perspectives might benefit the field, but it might also result in academics or even practitioners who are unable to relate to their predecessors. Again, if change is a goal, this might be a desired result, but certainly it would be difficult for those first pioneers.
Active Learning methods are enticing changes that offer a hope for improved engagement of students in their education, but as we investigate these methods, we should also consider the effects on the students’ education in the culture of their field as well as its content.

ENGE Reflection: Impending Test

Before Class

What are my goals for this week? What do I want students to learn/do over the next 2-3 class periods? What should they be leaving class with?

This week my goal is to give students an interesting introduction to nanotechnology and carbon nanotubes. Particularly, I would like to include examples that interest me or are relevant to my work so that I can model proper enthusiasm for this fascinating line of research. Additionally, I would like students to be more comfortable with LabView in general, but especially with case structures. Over the next few class periods, students should be quite comfortable with LabView to the point where they can begin to program with very few hints. I intend for students to leave class with an interest in nanotubes and feelings of self-efficacy with respect to LabView

How do I plan to help them learn/do? What educational strategies will I adopt (e.g., active learning, feedback-based instruction)?

I will employ active learning as well as feedback-based instruction to engage the students. To employ active learning I will try to adapt Peer Instruction (as described in a video that we watched for ENGE Practicum class) by having the students tell me the next step in a LabView program and then discussing with each other what the right answer is until they are all on the same page. To employ feedback-based instruction, I will vary my speed and level of detail of coverage of the material on nanotechnology based on the class’s prior knowledge.

What problems or challenges might I face?

Students may not agree with me that nanotech is fascinating despite me enthusiasm.

After Class

How well do I think my students achieved the learning goals? What evidence do I have?

I do not think that students achieved the goals very well. The students had a test 1 hour after my class would have ended. I started off pretty strong, and after they persisted in their disengagement after several ploys, I told them that we would have a review session for their test and that anyone who wanted to could leave. Few students left, but few had questions for me, most just studied independently, occasionally asking a question of their neighbor unless i was walking by.

What do I think contributed to their success/failure?

The students, almost unanimously, were preoccupied with the impending test, many of them did not like their score on the first test and saw this test as very important for their grade.

How does what I learned from these classes contribute to my overall teaching approach?

Next time, I think I would get through a bit more of the lecture anyways, but still end early to support the students needs so clearly communicated through their faces and participation.

Gender, Sex, and Society

Gender has typically been used either as a replacement for the term sex, or in more critical usage as meaning a socially constructed dichotomy that divides labor and power among members of society wherein each side of the dichotomy is assigned characteristics that the members must perform. This latter usage has been considered the social side of sex and “sex” has then been used to describe the biological side.

One of this week’s readings for Women’s Studies, “The Bare Bones of Sex: Part 1—Sex and Gender,” leaves us no choice but to cast out the idea of sex as biologically determined. She shows how the bones of people of different “biological sex” often demonstrates characteristics of the opposite sex. She argues that by positing the existence of actual biologically determined sexes, we are closing the discussion of how we construct sex.

In many people’s high school or intro college bio courses, sex is simplified to “people with XY chromosomes are biologically male, and people with XX chromosomes are biologically female,” which is called the XY sex-determination system. While many students are actually introduced to chromosome disorders (even sex chromosome disorders) in bio, these are usually limited to a surface explanation of Down Syndrome and maybe Kleinfelter’s. In fact, there are many conditions in which a person’s appearance, even including their genitalia will be contrary to the XY sex-determination system.

People say (I’d love to offer citations here…) that there are more similarities between men and women than differences. Fausto-Sterling’s presentation of the facts about bones in conjunction with the rising number of examples debunking the XY sex-determination system should give us cause to re-examine “biological sex.”

In my work, I will work to report demographics in a more interesting, meaningful way. Much of the data reported in HCI is analyzed using Grounded Theory, through a method known as open coding. Essentially, it’s an inferential process wherein one would start with raw data and note interesting points, and then begin to group based on trends and would thereby have created categories from the data itself, rather than having used only hypothesized categories and possibly overlooking interesting features of the data. To me, this seems like a better way to report demographic data than to used arbitrarily, inconsistently defined, socially constructed pre-existing categories. While it would be foolish to deny the importance of the socially-constructed categories with which society divides itself, maybe it would also be foolish to take them for granted as “natural” and existing in the world and merely descriptive of the universe.

LabView

Before Class

What are my goals for this week? What do I want students to learn/do over the next 2-3 class periods? What should they be leaving class with?

I want to introduce the students to programming in a way that is as painless as possible, and is preferably enjoyable for some. They should leave class with completed LabView VIs, and the ability to do homework in LabView.

How do I plan to help them learn/do? What educational strategies will I adopt (e.g., active learning, feedback-based instruction)?

I will try to be positive about LabView and point out its practical utility and prevalence in industry. I will leave lots of time for independent/group work and answer questions. If I notice a question that might be helpful for everyone I will announce the point to the class. I will be careful in doing this not to indicate that a particular student had the question, and also will try to keep these interruptions to a minimum as I think it might derail some students’ thought processes.

What problems or challenges might I face?

LabView requires a fair amount of idiosyncrasies that are detrimental to beginning programmers. I will have a hard time justifying these and appearing to support the decision to use LabView for these students first experience with programming. I may have trouble encouraging student participation during the ethics portion of the class.

After Class

How well do I think my students achieved the learning goals? What evidence do I have?

My students seemed to complete their VIs rather quickly, most of them who had trouble were merely having small issues with the LabView UI. Some explored alternate ways to complete the VIs, others added additional features (such as a smiley face made of LEDs which would light up once their VI completed).

What do I think contributed to their success/failure?

I think it was good for me to leave a lot of time for them to help each other and for me to answer individual questions rather than trying to run through every detail together on the slides, people seemed to often want to stop and explore, and had they been trying to keep up with slides, they would have often been frustrated.

How does what I learned from these classes contribute to my overall teaching approach?

I think I need to continue to personalize the lessons, I did not personalize this lesson very much, well at least not the slides, and I think that the students were less engaged with that part of the lesson as a result. I have contacted a friend to get some info about his usage of LabView in his current job in order to add this to future slides.

Physical Science Week

This week in Foundations of Women’s and Gender Studies, we ripped Science apart. First off, Bug made it clear that through history we have so often disproved previously held scientific beliefs (or “theories”) that maybe we should consider science a little less certain than many proponents would suggest. So far, minorities such as women are still experiencing under-representation in STEM fields, and as such the perspectives of those who have done the new proving (and thereby disproving in many cases) have had a less heterogeneous composition than might be valuable for re-examining assumptions of science’s past.

In Karen Barad’s Getting Real: Technoscientific Practices and the Materialization of Reality, she sides with Bohr and argues against some tenets of science (pg. 94). Ultimately, Barad is laying out her theory of Agential Realism which says that matter only comes to exist through its interaction with an observer.

Taking these authors into account would tell us that diversity in research is vital. Since the reality might be different just depending on who observes it, and since studying it from different perspectives might yield different results (as has happened as science has matured over the years), then it is vital that we include as many diverse perspectives as possible unless we wish to continue in a relatively ignorant and biased science.

To apply this to my current work, I will work with a diverse group of people. At this point in my career I cannot include in my team people from various sides of all power differentials, but I can include some others who are different from me. In working with the excellent undergrads who are helping me I have some of such a group. Additionally my advisor has a very different background than I.

Impostor Syndrome & Awkward Turtles

So I don’t like all of this video (but the short version doesn’t have any of the good parts), for example her misuse of her stats, and the crazy way she uses science to try to tell her story, but I do like what she says about the impostor syndrome and the idea of learning to tolerate some discomfort.