Monthly Archives: March 2016

Communication in the Digital Age

I received a request through an online group for messages to share with young people about “common sense” knowledge. If you have something to share, you can do it through this link. Here is what I said about electronic communications:

When conversing with others online, say only the same things you would say if you were standing in the physical presence of that person. Too often we forget that there is a living, breathing, feeling person receiving our message on the other end of our online communications. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.

To reinforce this mindset, I encourage people to never comment anonymously. Use your real name whenever you post. If you are embarrassed to have your name associated with what you are saying, chances are that people don’t really want to hear it either.

Finally, don’t be drawn in to mediating difficult dialogs through email or other means, if you can possibly speak about it in person. When you have something important to say, and you are uncertain of how it will be received, don’t be a chicken! Ideally, say it to their face if you can, or at least make a phone call about it. Chances are if the news is difficult, it will be better received in person or by telephone than it would be through an electronic message. E-communications are very tone-deaf, and it is all too easy to misinterpret the motives of the sender when you have other ways to communicate that might be better.

Kansas House Rejects Anti-Common Core Bill

Common Core Bulletin Board


The Kansas House just voted to reject a bill that would repeal the Common Core curriculum in Kansas. I personally don’t have a beef with Common Core as a set of academic standards. However, I have problems with how it seems to promote a culture of never-ending standardized testing and teaching to the test. I have big problems with how it became mandatory and the ensuing knee-jerk reaction to adopt so-called “Common Core Aligned” curricula and textbooks; materials often published by the same companies that create and sell the standardized tests that ensure compliance with Common Core in the first place. Saying “Common Core aligned” on the cover doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality when it comes to teaching materials.

I never thought I would celebrate the failure of a bill to repeal mandatory use of Common Core curriculum in Kansas, but I am. The reason? The new bill would mandate the non-use of Common Core. It would have thrown the baby out with the bath water. (Go here to read more about the controversial bill and the use of Common Core in Kansas.)

With the passage of the bill that was ultimately defeated, everything Common Core adopted by our schools would have been outlawed and we would have had to start over from scratch with brand new teaching materials. Fortunately for now, a bad bill was rejected. But our schools have always been political footballs, so we can expect that this fight is not over yet.

A more proper response by the legislature would be to write a law that explicitly permits local school districts to decide locally whether or not to use Common Core. I don’t like how using or not using Common Core gets rammed down our throats. Let professional educators make some decisions on how to use or not use this tool.

But we don’t seem to have a level of respect anymore to realize that Kansas kids living in rural areas may have completely different needs and interests than kids in Kansas’ urban areas do. Instead, we have to standardize, opting for a one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone needs to be the same. I think it would be better at the state level to make a recommendation of using Common Core, if that is what is desired, and even assess for it on state assessments if necessary, but ultimately leave it to local school districts and professional educators to decide how best to adopt and implement the standards.

Doctor Songs

Earning a PhD is hard work. When I was doing mine, there were tough things, gut-wrenching things that happened. It messes with your mind. To be successful, you need to find ways to motivate yourself. One of the things I did regularly was to visualize myself in my PhD regalia and imagine using the title “Doctor.”

Another thing I did was compile a list of “Doctor” songs I would play when when I finished my dissertation. October 15, 2015 was one of the best days of my life. That was the day I received the final “thumbs up” and got to play my list. I was up very early, as was my regular routine. I checked my e-mail around 5 am. Congratulations, you are finished! I was so overwhelmed with emotion. Years of effort and sacrifice coming to a close. (Next week will be the first spring break in years, in which I will actually have a break from working on this stuff.) So at six AM I woke everyone up with the “doctor” music blaring. My wife wasn’t happy. What is this all about? Well nothing much, but I’m finished!

So that morning we listened to these songs, and I scheduled posts on Twitter & Facebook so my friends could enjoy the day with me. If you’re working on a doctorate and you need a boost, bookmark the Doctor Song Playlist, and listen along with me. Some day, you’ll have your day of celebration too!

Dr. Love – Kiss

Dr. Feelgood – Mötley Crüe

Doctorin’ The Tardis – The Timelords

Witch Doctor – David Seville

I Don’t Need No Doctor – Ray Charles

Doctor Feelgood – Aretha Franklin

Doctor, Doctor – The Who

(Doctor, Doctor) Bad Case of Loving You – Robert Palmer

What’s up doc? – Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd

Theme from Doctor Who

Doctor – INXS

The Doctor – Doobie Brothers

Rock and Roll Doctor – Black Sabbath

Doctor Wu – Steely Dan

Dear Doctor – Rolling Stones

Dr. Jackie – Miles Davis

Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive – Men at Work

Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Brown

Facing Adversity

Last fall I completed a PhD I had been working on for over eight years. I have read some blogs that discuss graduate studies, but I was reluctant to discuss it much here on the TechIntersect blog. Much of it was too painful. There were many questions in my mind about whether or not I was even up to the task.

As if working on a PhD while teaching full time weren’t difficult enough, there were a number of things that happened that made me question whether it was even worth it and wonder if I was up to the challenge. Simply put, there were some very dark times.

I think much of the problem was just simply going through life sleep-deprived. For weeks on end, I would get up at 2 or 3am to work on my dissertation and then head on in to work to teach a full day of classes. The only way I could force myself to endure it was to reassure myself it was only temporary and would be worth it in the end.

But there was one year a few years back in which I attended funerals of four close relatives – two grandmothers, an uncle and a brother-in-law all within the space of a few months. It felt like I was getting kicked in the teeth repeatedly. I was so very tired all of the time, only to have this added stress. We also lost a beloved family pet, and things at work are always a challenge. There never seems to be enough money, enough students, or enough administrative support for what we’re trying to accomplish with a new degree program in digital media technology.

What I am trying to say is there was always an excuse to give up. Any one of these things should have been enough to cause me to throw in the towel. But my life has always been full of challenges. For example, no matter how bad things got I could always reflect on the fact that I was no longer in a combat zone – no one was shooting at me. Sometimes it felt like people were taking shots, but no physical lead was flying like it did in Desert Storm. That was a tough time to get through, and in some ways it was easier than the work on a PhD.

In Desert Storm, we always knew what we were supposed to be doing. Even when the Silkworm anti-ship missile was bearing down on us, we knew what to do – brace for shock. Scary stuff, but we knew how to respond. With a PhD, so much of it, I had to figure things out on my own. There was no proven pathway, no well worn path to success. I had a great advisor, but she gave me a lot of freedom to explore (and to fail). And when the failures happened (there were several) it was up to me to get myself through it.

So one of the things I do when I fail is retreat and recover. I just needed some space and some time. There were times when I missed a goal or deadline that I might not do anything about it for many weeks. Maybe this is a bad habit. Maybe I should have gotten right back on the horse again after getting bucked off. Maybe it otherwise wouldn’t have taken me so long to finish. But it is my way. In the back of my mind, I never allowed the thought that I might permanently give up take root.

Another thing I do is to take responsibility for the things that I have control over, and the rest I turn over to God. If I can’t do anything about it, there is no point in worrying about it. This attitude has helped me immensely. And to cement the attitude in, I meditate. I learned to use a Rosary for prayer and meditation. You may find it useful as well, or maybe some other form of meditation will be helpful. But you should look into it if you’re over-stressed. It helps.

So last December I finally graduated and thought that all of this tough stuff would be forever behind me. Yeah, right. Life for me, it seems, just about when you think the chaos is calming, a new piece of drama pops up. It is test after test. How much can you handle, dude? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

But I have some people close to me who have set wonderful examples for me when it comes to dealing with adversity. For example, I had a close relative whose parents divorced back when this just wasn’t ever done. Growing up, he always felt like an outcast. Then, as a young man, he deployed to some of the nastiest jungle fighting in the WWII Pacific. He came home, got married, had some kids, and within 18 or so months time lost his brother, his daughter and his wife. Talk about hardship.

I had another relative whose mother didn’t want him and gave him up for adoption. Later, he wound up in a situation where he had to get married because an unexpected baby was on the way. They wound up having six kids and stayed together for over 50 years.

Another relative of mine lost his wife when she was 23 years old, leaving him with two pre-school kids to raise. He remarried, had three more kids and they’ve been together for over 40 years. Now his second wife has cancer and she’s getting treatments. They seem to be handling things well, and through it all you can easily see they are still deeply in love.

I think most people have these sort of stories to tell, although I think different people handle things differently. Not everyone deals with adversity well. So I’m very lucky. Lucky to have these people who have gone through such difficulties, and some how, some way they kept on keeping on. They have been an inspiration to me. I can only hope that I can pass what I know along to others around me who also face difficulties. It is hard to talk about, but I don’t know of any other way to be an example for others who are also struggling.