…and now Deep Thoughts, by Andi Smith

I’ve spent much of this blog so far focusing on technical decisions. In this post, I want to delve more deeply in my more philosophical/theoretical decisions. These decisions in practical terms end up being entwined with technology, but it has been my goal to be conscious of the implications of decisions as I have made them.

One decision I have made is to remain out of Canvas, Starfish, and other password-protected systems as much as I can. In particular, I have completely opted out of Canvas. Instead, all my course materials are available on my website, which is not password protected. All my lectures are up, with brief downtime as I update them. I don’t take them down when I stop teaching a course. My project-based courses have all old syllabi and projects posted as well.

Staying out of Canvas is partially a technical decision: I don’t like the interface, and I find it to be user unfriendly. However, the main reason I’ve opted out is that I buy into Weller’s idea of the “long tail”. Few people who are not my students will find my slides interesting. However, those that do may benefit from them. Perhaps they are alums or upperclassmen who want to review old materials. Perhaps they’re profs trying to develop a similar course. Or maybe they’re laypeople just interested in the topic. I have nothing to loose and much to gain in sharing with them. I feel confident that being at the lecture in person is worth it, but I feel equally confident that giving people an idea of what I teach without being in class is valuable as well.

In many ways, I’ve made decisions that have then required me to find the technology to support them. In some cases, of course, this doesn’t work out. For instance, I imagined an easy online way to sign up for advising. I tried a half dozen different systems. And then I realized that preservation students basically live in Combs Hall anyway, and that the old sign sheet on the door can’t be beat.

Other decisions, however, have worked out even better than I anticipated. I now ask for all assignments digitally (with the exception of design projects and others that don’t easily fit this model). Getting papers digitally has been wonderful in many ways:
– as a planner interested in sustainability, I feel better not wasting paper on a daily basis. Walking the walk makes talking the talk more effective, I think.
– I now don’t have to worry about losing a paper or having my toddler treat it as a canvas (both have happened before.)

Daria Ruth Smith "Pretty Colors are Fun" Marker on lined paper. 2013.   (May become a collector's item. Still better to keep separate from grading.)

Daria Ruth Smith “Pretty Colors are Fun” Marker on lined paper. 2013.
(May become a collector’s item. Still better to keep separate from grading.)


– I can keep track of progress more effectively, since I always have old papers on hand.

It also turns out that the technology itself has helped me do a better job of grading. I grade using GoodReader on my iPad. It is a much slower process than writing on a paper, but I have developed systems such as text expansion to provide rote comments faster (e.g.: use of apostrophe, spelling errors, etc.) Instead, I can focus on the important parts.

Of course, I’ve had to build up an entire system around this: My syllabus explains how to make a PDF (some students, surprisingly, don’t know), I have conventions for naming documents, I get 50+ emails with assignments at a time meaning I have to have a good filing system. Etc.

Again, it’s not all unpleasant. I’ve learned to use Automator as a result, and this speeds up many tasks for me.

Anyway, this long-winded post is trying to say something really simple: It’s easy to be swept up with technology. I’m certainly not immune: “fangirl” would be a nice way to put it; complete nerd would be just as true. But it’s crucial to remember why we do what we do. Sometimes technology is the answer, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes you just have to cobble together a system until something better comes around. But holding onto the why should be something that is always present, and that is re-evaluated often.

One thought on “…and now Deep Thoughts, by Andi Smith

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  1. You make a lot of good arguments for why Canvas doesn’t agree with your philosophy, but I really like Canvas. Before we had Canvas, I had students email me assignments and I found it got a bit unwieldy. I love how I can download all of the assignments from Canvas at once and re-upload the papers with comments from one zip file. I like the fact that our discussions are private. Then I use blogs and wikis for more public discussions (but they can link to them from Canvas documents). I have been grateful for the open content from other professors, so I am contemplating how much to put on this new website. Syllabi definitely, but I’m still debating on how much content to make public.