Friday, January 23, 2015

This Week in E-Mail Auto Response, 1/19 - 1/23

Monday, January 19:

The wonderful thing about winter in New England is that when you get them, days like today, days in the mid thirties, with mostly blue skies and slight breezes now and again, feel balmy. No longer underwear, no thick socks, no heavy jacket, no down mittens, just a good coat, cap, and fast step, and you're all set.

Now here's the the other thing: there are times in the winter that are so cold that  there are days after them when the high teens and low twenties feel balmy too.

Tuesday, January 20:

The stop sign outside my window must feel particularly disrespected this morning as cars roll through it, maybe every third or fourth actually coming to a full stop, every fifth or so simply blithely ignoring it and not even pretending to be about to stop. I think even one just accelerated past it, actually sped through it as if it were a traffic light at yellow about to go red. So my question for today: will I be like the stop sign, depending on the kindness of others for respect?. And who will those others act? Like the courteous driver, who comes to a full stop in this residential neighborhood?; the impatient driver who slowly rolls through?; or the road boar who fully ignores the sign because lord knows that the two seconds saved in traffic by doing so means so much to the driver's ego? 

And when I drive, how will I behave? Well, given that I am a bad driver, anything is possible, but I'm inclined today to a longer than full stop, one I exaggerate as if giving a driver's education lesson.

Wednesday, January 21:

It's 10:33 a.m. and I haven't had breakfast yet, though I had have coffee. It's what comes from getting up early, reading and writing right away, and not noticing the time until three hours into work.

It's a good day that starts with reading and writing stuff that keeps you from food, maybe not a good habit for every day, but a good day none-the-less to wake energized and doing those two things.

Next up -- breakfast then a walk. But before that, I want to see if there's a voice t text app for my cell phone so that I can walk and write at the same time. I cannot walk and read -- too many obstacles (parked cars, curbs, telephone poles, branches, deep puddles of cold water or shallow patches of ice) to do that safely, but writing, well . . .

Thursday, January 22:

I really like this time of year, the start of a semester. Now is the time when conversations with students and teachers are most optimistic, when plans are still fresh, class chemistries are still forming. It's a hectic time, these first few weeks -- the period of add/drops; instructor assignment changes; waiting for books to be bought, borrowed, or shared; and the first dipping into any course edutech: textbook publisher learning tools, open education resources, locally coded sites, campus licensed stuff, or the same tools and services non students use all the time such as blogs, video sharing, and social sites. 

And experience says that not everything will go as planned. Some students won't read nor, if they do read, understand assigned work. Others will struggle to create accounts and get off to smooth start in their electronic spaces because of user errors. And too many of those spaces will be slow to load, have bugs, lack content, or simply not work as imagined. There will be hiccups, with online and offline learning. There always is.

Learning is hard, complicated, and unpredictable. People aren't widgets; schools aren't factories. Neither teachers nor students are uniformly designed. And so what's fun in the coming weeks is the work of helping people adjust to one another -- teachers to students -- and to the tools they use. What can supplement a book?, how can an assignment be adjusted?, how do you find a way to get to a goal within the limits of what a technology does?  

So for me, spring is the season of workshops, consultations, learning what worked and planning changes for fall, and other fun stuff. From now to May, no matter how rough things may get here and there as adjustments are made in the here and now of making the current semester work, it's really a forward looking and hopeful time.

Friday, January 23:

Today will be fun -- off to MIT to learn about their HyperStudio's AnnotationStudio software ( reading and writing. I've explored it a bit on my own, but today in a one day conference, we'll hear from the designers as well as teachers who use it. Nothing like a day spent exploring the pedagogy of learning software, especially when it's smart stuff from smart people.   

The nexus of technology and learning continually surprises and fascinates, and so while there are days when a job can get old -- use this form, fix that bug, complete expenses, the report is late, answer that question again -- there days like this, days of learning and thinking and imagining "what if we did . . ."

Friday, January 16, 2015

#worthassigning: Effective Peer Review Assignment Design from the Eli Review Team

The team at Eli Peer Review ( has a new professional development piece up for faculty on designing effective peer review assignments at If you do faculty development, tutor training, like using digital tools to teach, offer a writing and the teaching of writing course, you'll find this invaluable. 

The full module includes video pieces from professors and useful illustrative graphics, but here's a humble text excerpt from the piece that speaks to its quality and smarts:
Reviews from which writers receive helpful feedback that will drive revision rarely happen without coaching, especially with novice reviewers. Teachers in feedback-rich classrooms must give as much attention to designing reviews as they do to designing writing prompts.  
Review prompts shape how reviewers talk to writers, influencing the details reviewers notice and ignore. Prompts are not just words instructors use, but also the various forms of response they choose to help reviewers read a draft carefully and respond to it thoughtfully. 
Unhelpful feedback is often the result of reviewer insecurities, caused by many factors:
  •     They don’t know how to talk about writing, generally.
  •     They aren’t aware of the learning goals of a project, specifically.
  •     They aren’t comfortable providing feedback to peers, especially friends.
When designing a review, there are three important factors we can take into account that will help overcome these obstacles and result in better feedback: we can consider the cognitive load of our reviews, start with pedagogical goals and design reviews backwards, and be detailed and specific in how we prompt students. 
I really like how this starts -- students can give good peer review feedback (the piece cites relevant empirical research showing as much) with coaching and guidance. And often that's not provided in peer review assignment design. And the second point --- review activities, to succeed, require as much attention, as writing assignments. 

Eli Review is a Web-based software platform for writing workshop pedagogy; it purposefully puts teachers in the role of guide on the side, with the only teacher-centered commenting space being in their revision plan tool. In that tool, students choose which written comments they'll follow in their revision; after choosing the comments and saying how they'll use them, the professor can comment on the revision plans. Professors do not comment on drafts, nor do they use Eli to grade (there's no grade book), the emphasis is on designing good reviews, coaching good feedback, and for professors, commenting on revision plans based on writers' decisions about classmates review comments. It's a dramatic shift.

But here's the thing, you do not have to teach or have colleagues teach with Eli Review to benefit from its advice on assigning good peer review assignments. The advice is simply smart no matter what tools you use for peer review. Here's another excerpt, this one elaborates on their observations about considering cognitive load:
 One mistake we often make is giving students too much to do. Asking reviewers to read too much text and address too many questions can often mean that they don’t have time to respond thoughtfully. Module 1 discussed the issue of time and feedback loops, but some specific strategies for reducing cognitive load on reviewers include. 
Review smaller texts - consider smaller, focused reviews as a text develops, rather than asking reviewers to digest and respond to a large text. In an example like this, writers get feedback early, on small pieces, helping make sure that the larger draft they’re building toward is on the right track, with the added benefit of making plagiarism much harder (since you can watch as a text evolves from earliest kernels to a full draft):
[image not shown]
Multiple reviews of the same text - Divide reviews to conquer cognitive load. Design smaller, swifter reviews that are focused on specific, granular goals. This will let reviewers focus carefully for discreet moves:  
[image not shown]
The advice to review smaller pieces of writing, smaller pieces of larger texts, or smaller goals in a larger text make incredible sense no matter how one does peer review.

Finally, because the writing is so clear, and the case for the approach so compelling, if you put into practice some of the strategies the piece suggests, no matter the technology you use, this is a piece worth assigning to your students before they begin doing peer review. It will help them to better understand your peer review approach, why you're asking them to do peer review, and it demonstrates convincingly that students can become reliably good peer reviewers.

This Week in E-Mail Auto Response, 1/12 - 1/16

I began the week on the road -- leading a workshop with great teachers at Dutchess Community College -- and then working from my portable office storage device at home, in coffee shops, and even for two and half hours, at the actual office.

Monday, January 12: On the slippery road again . . .

I got home Friday night, but this Monday finds me on the road again. I'm off, with a stop over in Hartford, CT tonight to do a workshop in Poughkeepsie, NY tomorrow.

So today I get to drive through snow and some sleet, or maybe just freezing rain, depends on the route. I'm kind of looking forward to that part, the driving in bad weather part, of today.

Driving in bad weather is actually fun -- a little sliding here, hydroplaning there, wipers not keeping up quite with volume and so visibility reduced, trees and guard rails coming closer, sideways blown weather . . . better than sledding on a lunch tray during recess.

Tuesday, January 13: How do you say that?

In Poughkeepsie today -- and by the way, Poughkeepsie is fun to say if you mispronounce it and enunciate each syllable as its own word, much the same way Worcester is fun to mispronounce -- for a workshop that addresses reading in college. Here's the url for the workshop blog in case you want some fun stuff on reading to read (use the resources link in the menu):

Wednesday, January 14: Time is not on my side, yes it isn't

Am I this far behind, only 14 days into the New Year, because I've suddenly become inefficient? Or has the volume of what I need to get done expanded? I do not think it is inefficiency. After all, I play solitaire as crisply as ever and linger at the water cooler with the same elan as always and my afternoon naps -- marked as overseas conference calls in my calender -- are still only two hours, taken after my standard lunch of ice-cream and pretzels. No. I think it must be a volume issue. I must learn to say no.

Thursday, January 15: Charm only lasts so long for some frogs

I got into work at 7 a.m. today because getting into work meant shuffling from shower and shave to laptop, coffee in hand, cereal by my side, banana peeled, mimosa aflute, ready to go. My New Year's nonresolution -- I prefer gestures and water testing to resolve -- is to have a mimosa every morning for breakfast under the theory that it combines two great fruits - oranges and grapes - with a little effervescence.

If you see me and I'm effusive, cheerful, helpful, now you'll now why -- my morning glass of effervescence. If you see me and I'm not effervescent, that means it's 8:00 a.m. or later and you missed my window of charm.

Friday, January 16: I am my own auto-correct fail

I'm starting to mishear. My daughter was telling me about how she had to buck calls yesterday, and I said, "do you mean, 'duck calls?," meaning to me not answer the phone. She glanced at me, paused, and said, "Dad, I said _muck stalls_." Of course, since she works at a barn tending to horses that makes sense.

Now, it's one thing to mishear when another is speaking, but I sometimes mishear when I write. As I write, I say the words in my head. A few days ago I was writing an email and almost sent out "raisin finds" instead of "raise funds." That would not have been an auto-correct error. That would've been a "me  mishearing my own words as I inner speak to myself as I write what I say" error.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

This Week in E-Mail Auto Response, 1/5 - 1/10

This past week I was in fact out of the office, for the whole week, at the national sales meeting for Macmillan Higher Education (where I work) and the high school division, BFW High School. So you'll sense of theme.

Monday, January 5: A Room w/ a View, But in Only One Direction

I am in Huntington Beach, CA until Friday, at a hotel across the street - US 1, the Pacific Coast Highway - from the beach. Sadly, there is too much sand on the beach for my taste, the water is salty, so I will not cross over to the waves. But at least if you look west you see water, though not quite blue in color, more an industrial gray heavy green.

But it's nice to look at, maybe the only thing nice:
If you look south from the hotel, it's flat and dull until you see what look likes some kind of oil storage or processing facility, all done in gray.

If you look north, there's construction, with iron skeletons of shops, hotels, and condos yet to be born in the rust red and black of new iron works encased all around by silver scaffolding.

And to look east from the hotel, it's all gated communities with walls and Spanish style roofs.

-- So look west, especially at sunset:
sunset at huntington beach
West is best.

Tuesday, January 6: Lots of Books Get Carried and Shipped

A Textbook Publisher Sales Meeting Limerick:

A meeting in California
Is a textbook cornucopia
  If you happen to go,
  You really should know
That too many books gives a hernia

Wednesday, January 7: Apologies to Princess Leia

A long time ago, in a state far, far away . . .

. . . It is a period of the sales meeting
Travel away from Boston, gripped
in wind chill readings of minus -24
degrees, means those from there who
are here in Huntington Beach, CA have
won their first victory.

During the meeting, restless reps
make secret plans for their free afternoon.
Avoiding the doom of cognitive overload,
the break should refresh people with
enough power to survive through Thursday.

Friday, everyone who hasn't already left,
races home, most in cramped and crappy
coach seats, custodians of plans
that can save schools from the Evil
Galactic Empire's  MyLab Plus and restore
learning to the galaxy....

Thursday, January 8: If I'm Not at  E-Mail, You Shouldn't Be Either.

I am in the office, not out. I have access to email. So nothing's changed. But still, I may not reply automatically except for this automatic reply.

My office is my laptop, and it is in a hotel in California, not to be confused with the Hotel California in Peoria, Illinois. I am not at my laptop right now. I am either in a car on the way to campus, at a meeting at this hotel in one of their conference rooms, or six paces away on the bed watching a movie from 20 years ago where Richerd Gere is a lawyer defending an altar boy who . . . cannot stay awake any more.

I hope this reply finds you well and ready for the weekend, which can start now if you like. Really, go ahead. Leave, go home, get a drink, call it 5 pm on Friday. I won't tell.

Friday, January 9: Switching Songs of Home

All my bag's are packed, I'm ready to go . . .

Just can't wait to get home again . . .

To see my wife again . . .

Be in her arms again . . .

To wake up Saturday morning with her again . . .

Bonus -- Saturday, January 10: No, Not a Bad Cocaine Memory

I really wish it were possible to eat broth with a fork. Spoons scare me.

Monday, January 05, 2015

This Week in E-Mail Auto Response, 12/29/204 - 1/2/2015

Though I only had a few days for required work this week, I kept a full slate of auto-responses to better mark the transition from 2014 to 2015. We begin at that beginning:

Monday, December 29: Resolving not to be Too Quick to Resolve

It's the last Monday of 2014.

Today is a good day to think about your new year's resolution, if you're so inclined.

If you're at work, things are likely more quiet than usual, most holiday parties past, many co-workers cramming in unused vacation and sick days before the new year starts.

If you're not at work, today is a pivot day of sorts on the break you are taking. Visiting relatives might be making their way home today, or you might be traveling back to where you're from, hopefully at a laconic pace that doesn't involve airports. Or maybe you're just resting quietly for a bit, doing some minor work while it's quiet, which is why you're getting this.

In either location -- at work or away from work -- today is a good day to think about next year.

My advice, don't think too much about it. Don't rush rashly to resolve. Let the year arrive, give it time to simmer, and make your adaptations quietly, over time. Ease into things. Make any resolutions or long term plans in February, after you get all tax paper work, final holiday bills, sense of what the issues are at work, at home, in the country as a whole.

Then make some plans, set a course, and find a way to stay sane that doesn't demand drastic or dramatic change or surgery...

Tuesday, December 30: Actual Out

Today finds me genuinely out of the office, off line for much of the day. 

Not that it matters to you too much because if you're writing me, there's nothing urgent at hand. I've delivered unto deadline what is deadline's, and now is the time for low level projects - the last expense report for the year, some tidying up of files, deleting of things past for which remembrance, let alone archiving, would be wasted, and other squaring-aways of the past year in preparation for the next.

I am looking forward to 2015, and the chance, from a work point of view, for new adventures in pedagogy and online learning. 

Wednesday, December 31: No TV Tonight

It's New Year's Eve,  or as we used to say when I tended bar and waited tables for a living, amateur night. If you're going out tonight, have fun. If you're not going out, you'll have more fun.
If you're staying in, whatever you do, do not turn on the television and watch the inexorable coverage of first nights, ball drop, fireworks, and the inane commentary of B-list singers, and local anchors trying to sound chipper between their shivers. There's nothing more desultory and cheerless than new year's eve coverage on television.
It's much more sensible to to take a good hardcover book and hit yourself about the head than it is to watch television coverage of the count down to the new year. At least when people asked you how you spent your new year's eve you can sound constructive about it -- I curled up with a good book.
So look, whatever you do tonight - be it stay home alone, stay home with family and friends, go out alone, or go out with family and friends - do it with the television off. Enjoy or despair the moment, wherever you are and whatever your mood, live and direct, not through a screen.

Thursday, January 1: Flower Power Redux

This will be redundant in its way, but here goes:  Hippy Nude Year!

Friday, January 2: A Year of Travel Kharma in One Day?

Have I used all my travel kharma for 2015 today?

I needed to get to Hartford from Canton, Ma. My plan was to rent a car from Logan because I fly out early Sunday morning and the car rental from Friday to Sunday is cheaper than -- get this -- a cab to the airport from my house Sunday am.

But, at the last minute, I had an appointment come up that meant I couldn't leave as early as planned for the airport. I though for sure I'd be late to the meeting in Hartford.

But . . .
  I got t the train at Canton Junction just in time to catch the, coming onto the platform and stepping aboard as the last passenger just as it was about to pull away.

  At South Station, I transferred to the Silver Line, stepping aboard just as the bus was to pull away for it's run to Logan.
  At Logan, I transferred from the Silver Line to the car rental shuttle, stepping aboard just as the door closed.
  At the rental car center, I hit no line, FastBreak was fast, no line, the envelope waiting, the car there, with no line at the exit booth.
  I hit no traffic delays on the Pike.
So instead of being a half hour to forty minutes late, I was ten minutes early, a minor miracle. 

I hope I don't have to pay the kharma bank back on Sunday after I land at LAX and begin the drive to Huntington Beach.