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Thirty Day Challenge – Week 1

My students and I are working on one project we have chosen that we would like to do for the next 30 days to try to learn a new skill or make some self-improvement change. You can follow our progress by searching Twitter for the #digme406 hashtag (no Twitter account required).

I am actually working on two projects. My main project is to write all that I can over the next 30 days about my experiences during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 on the Battleship Missouri. This week I was able to write on about a dozen different topics. I tried to write every day, but accomplished more on some days than others. I have posted all of this writing on this website under the Sailors of Desert Storm page.

My other self-improvement project is to lose some weight. Over the holidays, I’ve been packing on some extra baggage. I don’t feel as good as I did when I was thinner. I’m doing the Naturally Slim program provided by my employer. I already lost six pounds since I started on Monday! The main things I’ve done are:

  • Eat only when truly hungry.
  • Don’t eat breakfast.
  • Eat more slowly. Chew every bite.
    • Follow a ten-five-ten minute plan where you eat for ten minutes, rest for five and eat for another ten. This gives your brain a chance to feel full before you over eat.
  • Stay hydrated. I drink water with a splash of orange juice in it using a 7:1 water to juice ratio.
  • Cut out all obvious sweets. (Not easy in my house. My wife is a baker.)



Amy Schumer’s Body

Amy Schumer responded to a stranger on the Internet who Photoshopped her to make her appear slimmer. She writes,

“I like how i really look… The other picture looks nice but it’s not me.”

The young man replied, “I’m sorry Amy, I had no idea you’d see this…”

It’s none of our business. It is everyone’s business.

Really, why should anyone be telling Amy Schumer how she should look? I guess he admitted he didn’t ever imagine she would see it, let alone respond to it. The only thing I can think of is that she is in the public eye and makes her living as a celebrity. It is fun to discuss these people and even to “improve” them with software. But do we really have a right to make comments or suggestions on their appearance?

Celebrities are people too. Some famous people make their living by willingly being objectified. Is it any wonder then that some people want to project that set of values on to all celebrities? Kudos to Amy Schumer for speaking up about this.

It is interesting that people who create these “better” celebrity images delete them after being called out. It is interesting to me that the person who posted it “had no idea she would see it.” That is the power of the internet. It can cut out the middle man. You can communicate directly with the famous and powerful.

In a most memorable incident, I once had a student who inadvertently brought the US Secret Service to our campus. I was teaching web development back when having that skill was uncommon and specialized. I had all of our students create websites on the Internet. One student made a website that included a threat to the US president at that time, G.W. Bush, I think. A few days later some men in dark suits showed up and wanted to speak with Mr. So and So, the author of that page.

Yes folks, people really do read the stuff you put online about them.


Battleship From A Distance

After talking with some students today about our upcoming 30 day challenge, I have been thinking of my own project I want to work on over the 30 days. I am planning to write a book, or at least a big chunk of a book about Operation Desert Storm from the point of view of sailors who served in the Persian Gulf. I have a number of videos that I recorded there aboard my ship the USS Missouri. Some of these I have published on YouTube.

I have found some other interesting videos on YouTube from other sailors there at the time as well. But today I decided to look on Twitter to see what, if anything, people were saying with the hashtag #desertstorm. To my surprise, only a few tweets down from the top of my search results, I found a tweet with a link to a video of my ship, the battleship Missouri, that was recorded during a fire mission into Kuwait from another nearby ship, the USS Curts.

I have never seen footage like this from another perspective before. I have only seen the Missouri firing the big guns from aboard the battleship itself. I watched the video several times, that’s how mesmerized I was by it. I enjoyed hearing the comments of the sailors on the Curts as they watched us do our thing. It was interesting seeing the fire and smoke, followed by a long delay and then finally a boom. Aboard the Missouri, a gun firing was bone-rattling. Aboard the Curts, from a mile away, it was more like a regular gun shot sound.

Today I was thinking that whoever recorded that footage was documenting history in action. The USS Missouri and the USS Wisconsin were the last two battleships in the world to fire their guns in combat. That footage captured some of those final moments. Unless Mythbusters or some other such reality show manages to secure a surplus 16″ gun and some ammo, the world won’t ever see anything like it again.

I was also thinking about how I would explain to others what it was like to experience the fury of a sixteen-inch battleship gun firing. Even those sailors aboard the USS Curts didn’t get to feel the full effect. I thought I would take a big metal 55 gallon drum and bang really hard on it with a metal pipe or something. That might be somewhat like the sound (not really even close, but a start).

But banging the drum would just simulate the sound. You also need the blast of air in the face. A shot in the face from an airzooka toy would be a start, but again not even close. It really needs to slap you hard in the face and the chest. You would also need to feel in instant blast of heat as well. I don’t think a standard hair dryer would be hot enough. Maybe a flash from an industrial heat gun blowing on you.

Do all of these things simultaneously, bang a 55 gallon drum, shoot an airzooka in your face, blow a short blast of hot air in the face with a heat gun, and you are getting in the ball park of what it is like. You still would need to feel the deck rattle beneath you. Maybe you could do all of this while standing on top of a small trailer that someone could strike with a sledgehammer to make it vibrate. Finally, you would need to light one of the big smoke bomb from July 4th, because you need to inhale some smoke as well. Do all of these things and you would have a simulation that only somewhat describes the experience of seeing a single sixteen-inch gun being fired up close. Now for full effect, you can multiply that by nine to feel the fury of a broadside!

I honestly did not enjoy watching the battleship guns firing up close. I’m glad I experienced it, but it really was overwhelming. I preferred to be and usually was, down inside of the plotting room where the guns were being fired from deep within the ship. Maybe I was just a wimp, but the plotting room was where I was supposed to be.

However, seeing that footage from another ships perspective was a wonderful find today. It makes me wonder what else is out there for me to discover?


Professor Gx’s 30 Day Challenge

I am challenging my distance education class in Social Media to learn  and document a new skill in 30 days.

The steps are:

  1. Pick a skill or activity that we would like to learn how to do
  2. Find information online about how to do that thing
  3. Work at doing that thing every day for 30 days
  4. Document the process
  5. Share what we are doing online
  6. Support one another in the class who are doing the same thing.

I intend to join in the fun. The activity or skill I have selected is writing a book. For years I’ve had some ideas about writing some books. I’ve jotted down some ideas, but never have made a serious effort towards making it happen. So for 30 days beginning this coming February 4th, 2019, I plan to write my first book. Or at least make significant headway towards that goal.

The topic I’ve decided to write about is Desert Storm in the Gulf: Experiences of Ordinary Sailors During Operation Desert Storm.

I plan to use various social media and online platforms to locate sailors who were there. As preparatory work this week I want to develop an outline of subtopics to explore, start collecting names of people to request interviews with and locate the videos on YouTube made by people who were there.


Gillette Advertisements

Before you read on, please be sure you have seen the heartwarming Gillette story about the man who shaves his father’s face for him each day. It will be the best three minutes you spend today. I will wait until you get back…


Wow, how moving was that one? Every time I see it, I am filled with emotion about those two men. It makes full use of the memes that move us, namely mission, pproblem-solving caring, and distinguishing yourself.

Since I am on social media often (probably much too often) I encounter many things that might simply slip past most people’s radar. However, I saw this particular story on the evening news so it must be getting some greater traction. It seems that the Gillette brand of shaving razors has created a video that is generating some controversy. As of today, it has over 20 million views with 582K up votes and 1M down votes.

I was first alerted to it on Facebook by a friend from California criticizing those angered by the ad’s message. He writes


“… If guys gotta prop “masculinity” with being a violent, ragey, obnoxious total asshole… damn, boy. Ya got issues. Go get some therapy or something before you make everyone else’s life a mess.


Another Facebook friend, a woman from California shared this parody:

When I am presented with two such widely differing views from people I truly respect and admire, I know it is an opportunity for me to reflect and think about my own stance. I also recognize that since it is a divisive issue, it will probably be a good question to raise with students who are developing their media/information literacy skills.

The main question I have is why does Gillette owned by Procter and Gamble, or any company for that matter feel compelled to lecture us about morality? Why should we pay any attention to it? As Stephen Colbert asks, do we need to be taught moral lessons by razor companies?

I always refer back to the key questions of media literacy when thinking about these things. These days I want to think critically about any corporate message, positive or not, because I know it ultimately seeks to influence me as a consumer. Ultimately they want me to buy what they are selling.



Kids & PBL

Yesterday my daughter was involved in presenting at a teacher in-service about her work with the other students and her teacher on the topic of Project Based Learning.

I told her congratulations on making her first professional presentation. She said, “It wasn’t my first. I presented last year at the national FBLA conference in Baltimore.” Yes, I said, but that was a conference for kids. I’m not knocking that achievement, but this one is pretty special because it was meant for adult professionals. In a way, you could think of it as your first professional presentation since the intended audience was professional people.

Reflections on Teaching Online Classes in 2018

I taught several online classes during 2018. In the spring and summer terms, I taught a course on Social Media. In the fall, I taught an online course on Digital Literacy. In all of these courses, I emphasized the use of social media and digital tools. For each class, I required a video teleconference at the beginning of the semester with each individual student. That took many hours to visit with each student for 20-30 minutes, but I think it was a good investment to make that initial connection.

In the spring Social Media class, I initially requested that each student use our Beam+ telepresence robot to video conference with me, but that was not a popular option so I relented and let students use a video chat tool like Skype or Zoom. In one case, the student’s bandwidth was so poor, we just switched to a regular telephone conversation. In that case, the student was interested in using the robot, but simply couldn’t make it work.

Some students downright refused to use the robot, which I guess is somewhat understandable since it was uncharted territory and required installing special software to make it work. However, for those students who did try the robot in several cases, they told me that they appreciated how “real” the experience felt. They visited me during office hours and I was able to give them a brief tour around our building, even introducing them to some other students on campus.

Even though it was a big assignment, points-wise, a few students opted to not do the teleconference at all. Those are the students who consistently did the most poorly of all. I need to think about how to ensure that all students utilize the video conference and build connections with them. Being an online student is a lonely business! It is important to know that real people are out there and that they care.

For both spring and summer editions of the Social Media class, I followed a strategy that I frequently use. I shared my syllabus with the students and asked that they provide feedback and suggestions on some key points on how the course would operate related to grading and participation. I believe that sharing some of the decision making and control with students can assist with helping them to take some ownership of their learning and the class.

With online classes, it is difficult for me to know with any precision the needs of my students and what challenges they might be facing. So in asking them about things like what reasonable participation frequency throughout the week looks like, I’m getting some vital information about what they think is reasonable and we can have a discussion about it.

However, one of my students commented in his feedback on the course that it was inappropriate for the instructor to ask for student opinions about how the class and syllabus requirements should be structured. I think this says a great deal about what that student thinks education should be, what a class should look like and what the role of teacher and pupil should be. Over the years, I have learned that students naturally gravitate towards passivity and when the teacher asks them to think about such things it falls far outside of their comfort zone. They would rather have the teacher do all of the heavy lifting on such things whenever possible. But my belief is that when I share control over some aspects of a course, it is no longer a dictatorship but becomes a form of shared governance. It gives students some agency and responsibility for how the course turns out. That can be a little daunting for some students, I think. But in the end, I think it is a good thing.

The fall 2018 Digital Literacy class was overall a good one. We experimented with using several forms of online media for communication. However, at one point, there was a student who had some major concerns about one particular topic and its content; that of objectification and body image. My response to that situation took a great deal of energy and reflection. I consulted with several colleagues and my supervisor about possible approaches.

Ultimately, I followed the advice of Dale Carnegie and took the blame myself and apologized just to keep the peace, but to no avail. I requested on several occasions to have a real-time visit about the situation because I know through experience that text-based communications can make a sensitive situation even worse, but my student decided that I was in the wrong and that a cold shoulder was the best response for me.

The sad part of that whole business was that I essentially shared the same point of view as my student. I don’t think that people should be viewed or treated as objects. I introduced this topic for discussion because it is an important conversation to have with college students. I don’t think it is considered often enough.

However, it was my first attempt at dealing with the topic and it was admittedly not handled with as much finesse as it could have been. I apologized and tried to explain my thinking, but it ultimately was a missed learning opportunity for that student. However it did open up a good discussion in the class though, and I believe that most of the students ultimately understood the purpose of the assignment, even if they too were surprised by what they saw (some others said they were).

In these classes, I work hard to keep things interesting and relevant. I challenge them with new ideas they might not have considered before. I emphasize critical thinking about the various forms of media they are using on a daily basis. We are using tools and technology in ways that they have never tried before. Learning is hard and it is uncomfortable to be challenged. But I think we are doing some good work in these online classes even though we will never meet face to face.


Pi computers in Hardware and Networking Class

for the fall 2018 semester in CMST 250 – Hardware & Networking class, I purchased six Raspberry Pi computers for the purpose of introducing this platform with its Linux system in the labs. The students were very engaged with this technology. They never imagined that such a powerful system could exist in a computer the size of a deck of cards for less than $50. Of course, they use smartphones that are compact in size and some are more powerful, but they don’t really think of phones as computers. The Raspberry Pi has all of the peripherals of a home PC like a mouse, keyboard, and monitor and it looks and feels like (it actually is) a real computer.

We learned how simple it is to download free software and get a system up and running in a short time. We also saw how easy it is to customize and add new programs through the CLI (command line interface). For many students, CMST 250 is the first time they have had to use a CLI. They find it more difficult than a windows based system, and it can be a hard sell with the Cisco systems we have always used. By using the Pi system, they really see the simplicity. By typing in a few commands, they can set up a working web server right on the Pi. Doing the same thing as we always have done on a Windows system requires going to the right website, downloading the right web server software, installing and configuring it. It is a much more complicated process to do the same tasks on Windows than on the Pi’s Linux system. I plan to continue using the Pi computers and develop new lab activities with them.

Some Reflections on the Humanities Class

It took me several years and a road trip to Michigan for me to become acquainted with Kathy Brockway, a colleague at K-State. We became friends at the Wakonse conference on college teaching in 2008. I have long known she is an outstanding teacher and an inspiration to others, but the fall 2018 semester was the first time I was able to see her in action in the classroom first hand and close up. She is so dynamic!

In a somewhat last-minute decision, I was assigned to teach a new course called Mastering Academic Conversations, also known in some circles as a freshman experience course. Although I had previously taught a similar survey course in arts and humanities, this particular course was conceived and developed by others. My humanities course was not exclusively offered for first year students, but that was the purpose of this new course.

Originally I was to team teach the course with Prof. Brockway, but that quickly changed and I was assigned two of my own sections to teach in the course. Fortunately, one of the sections overlapped with hers, and the classroom she was assigned was large enough, so early in the semester we made the decision to join our sections together for certain sessions. This arrangement worked so well that for most of the semester, we taught together as a team with our two sections combined as one class.

Having a larger group of about 30 students really changed the dynamic of the class from two smaller groups. We had better discussions, and working together with a colleague energized us. Depending on the topic and the circumstances, either of us could take the lead on a given day. Honestly, I often leaned heavily on Kathy for support as she had been through the class previously and it was my first time. However, there were days where the topic was of greater interest to me and I took the lead on the activities and discussions.

I once remarked that I felt like the two of us made a great instructional team. Our personalities complemented each other as she is more extroverted and I’m more introverted. Although Kathy often led, I felt like I had her back and brought much to the table as well to keep things moving forward. Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon come to mind as an analogy.

However, the larger group also presented new challenges. Both of us felt that we had never had a more distracted, self-absorbed group of students than some of those in this bunch. Not everyone was like this, but some were hard to miss. There always seemed to be a din of motion and murmuring, sometimes full voice conversations competing with whomever happened to have the floor, teacher or classmate alike. Some students simply could not sit still or be quiet, which was frustrating at the time, but upon reflection I realized that it showed engagement. Often the side conversations began with some compelling idea being considered in the class. Instead of being irritated by it, I think in the future I need to figure out a way to plan for it and harness it.

What was so important about moving forward anyhow? Why not recognize which ideas most resonate with the students and purposefully build more time in for small group discussions, then later bring it back to the larger group?

But there is definitely a maturity issue in play here and an issue of executive control. Seeing other points of view, including those of teachers and classmates, and exercising empathy are something that need our ongoing attention and practice.

Some of our topics and discussions caused some discomfort. I think that is a good thing as we get students to examine their own beliefs and point of view on things. We had things get to the point where a student just got up and walked out of class, we had more than one heated discussion in which not only the professors, but the more experienced non-traditional aged students exercised leadership in guiding the conversation. I think the most important aspect of this was that we modeled respecting others, even if we disagree.

I think because there were so many cooks with this pot (we had five faculty members teaching multiple sections of this class) there were at times competing philosophies with regard to what and how the course should be taught. At times I think we just had to respectfully agree to disagree.

One of the things I feel we can improve upon is how we begin and end the course. We started with five weeks of administrative tasks and academic theory and we ended with a music concert. In my opinion, we should begin with the concert and conclude with a review of how the pieces fit together in a larger picture.

To me, the worst way one can begin a course is with a discussion of the syllabus’ contents. I want to begin my semester with a bang. As some of my colleagues refer to it, I want to “Rock the First Day.” I always save the syllabus for the second class session. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t “flip” that part of the course and give it as a take-home assignment, with subsequent discussion and assessment that doesn’t even take an entire class session.

But this course began with discussions of syllabus and course policies, the honor system, and other administrative and academic details. And it wasn’t one session either. It took five weeks before we delved into any specific humanities topic. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to discuss information literacy and critical thinking, but we can do these things in the context of examining the various humanities topics like art, literature and the media.

Our librarian, Katherine Jones, is a great and underutilized resource. We had her come in for a joint seminar session to talk about information literacy and how to use the library resources for research. I would like to see her become more involved throughout the semester in the freshman course. She is excellent at what she does, and I think she relates well with students.

On a related note, I felt like our current student demographics are less than an ideal situation. I really feel for the young women attending our classes when they are outnumbered nine to one. Really? In a world where women as a rule are now attending college more often than men, why in the world are there so few women in our classes? I was hopeful about this situation a few years ago when I actually had a computer class with nine women and three men. I thought we had started a new chapter, but it was actually just an outlier year. WE NEED TO FIX THIS ISSUE!

My favorite parts of the semester were all about the arts and humanities. The field trip to the art center to do the downtown sculpture tour, the trip to the Smoky Hill Museum, and the play at the Salina Community Theatre. I was saddened by how many people missed or left early from these events. I’d like to think about some ways to make it difficult to miss or leave early.

We did some additional activities that were engaging. My favorites include the pencil drawing activity we did with drawing each others’ shoes. It was interesting to see how students responded to drawing another person’s shoe. I would like to expand this next time with a lesson from Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain on seeing what is actually there instead of what you think you see. Another favorite was examining the Thanksgiving holiday by reading accounts of the Puritan holiday from various sources, including those of modern Native Americans. The financial literacy portion put on by Kathy was also popular and led to some thoughtful discussions.

Overall, it was a great semester and a great collaboration. I feel like together, Kathy Brockway and I did a great job. I realize the humanities are more my thing than Kathy’s thing, but she brings so much fun and excitement to the course I hate to think of what it would be like without her. If we get the chance to do it again using this format, I know we’ll make it even better next time around.