… and the first quadrimester of 2014.
And now you know that a quadrimester is a 4-month period of time: “rare in the U.S., this unit is widely used elsewhere to describe an academic term of 4 months duration.” I have some excuses for why this year’s report is a quadrimester late, but no good reasons, so I’ll just note it and move on.
Previously, recall that in my 2012 report, I included this blurb about a place in western New Mexico called El Morro:
A national monument, El Morro (Inscription Rock) is a
90-minute45-minute drive from Grants. I visited it one Saturday in October. It’s an imposing rock formation that has ancient markings from the Anasazis, the remnants of a pueblo atop the rock, and from 1605 to 1905, inscriptions from travelers. Literally, El Morro was the rock-hard precursor to a Facebook update: “Governor Don Juan de Onate checked in, 1605, +27 not counting slaves.”
Back to General Semantics, Part 1
In January 2014, I got the news that Mr. B.K. Parekh died in Mumbai, India. Mr. Parekh was responsible for my unforgettable 3-week trip to Mumbai in 2007, with Andrea Johnson, to present a series of lectures and workshops on General Semantics in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Baroda. More about the 2007 trip.
A few weeks later I was invited by Dr. Deepa Mishra to contribute to a collection of articles about General Semantics to be published in Mr. Parekh’s honor. From February until the fall, I spent a great deal of time getting back into General Semantics to prepare something worthy of Mr. Parekh. Despite several attempts, however, I wasn’t able to adequately articulate what I wanted to say. Dr. Mishra was gracious enough to extend my submittal deadline several times, until I finally had to reluctantly and humbly admit that I wasn’t going to be able to complete it without delaying the publication schedule.
Months later, some of that ‘unproductive’ time and research would bear some fruit.
“The IT Guy”
In August 2012, I took a position at the community college in Grants, New Mexico, which is part of the New Mexico State University system. I was hired as “instructional technology manager,” with the primary responsibility of administering the online Learning Management System (LMS) known as Canvas, used by faculty to teach online courses.
After a few months, I accepted an additional duty of redesigning and maintaining the campus website. Fortunately for me, the entire NMSU system was in the process of moving their websites to the WordPress platform, which I had been working in for the previous three years. The redesigned NMSU Grants website went live in April 2013.
A month later, I became the IT Director with additional supervisory responsibilities. While I’ve always known a little more than average about computers and the Internet, I didn’t consider myself an “IT guy.” But fortunately we have two really good support guys who are most definitely “IT guys.” We spent a good portion of 2013 overseeing the installation of a dozen “smart classrooms” with the latest instructional technology, and an even better portion of 2013 trying to figure out: a) how it works; and b) how to make it work when it didn’t want to work.
In June 2013, I attended the annual user conference for Canvas held in Park City, Utah. I had a great time, learned a lot about how Canvas was being used by other institutions, and where the company behind Canvas (Instructure) was going with their new initiative to offer free online courses (known as MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses). Instructure was making a big push to develop a catalog of free online courses using their Canvas Network platform and actively seeking new courses to offer.
And I earned the dubious distinction of having MC Hammer dance on my table.
My dad has experienced some health issues for the past couple of years. Approaching the big 8-0, he and my stepmother Juanise decided to sell their house in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and move into an assisted living apartment in Jefferson, Texas, where Juanise’s daughter Ann lives. Over Labor Day weekend, they made the move. My sister Lizann, brother-in-law Tom, and niece Britni and I went to Tulsa to help with some of the last-minute details and packing, then the three of them drove my dad and Juanise to Jefferson.
A couple of weeks later, I returned to Jefferson to spend five days with my dad while Juanise and Ann attended Ann’s son’s wedding in Washington, D.C. We had planned a small family celebration for my dad’s 80th birthday over Thanksgiving weekend, but a few days earlier Ann’s husband Ron lost his long battle with Parkinson’s disease. We decided to forego celebrating my dad’s birthday, at least for awhile.
My daughter Stacy continued her extraordinary life with her fiance Chris, her high school students, her growing photography business (Just Breathe Photography), and her work on behalf of Toms shoes. In fact, based on her fundraising and promotion work she’s done over the years, she was selected by Tom’s in 2013 to travel overseas and personally deliver Toms shoes. However, due to some administrative and medical constraints, she wasn’t able to make the trip. She was profiled last month in a local magazine for her teaching and her work with Toms (online edition, starting on page 8).
In October, I received a special invitation. One of my two best friends from high school, Jim, was getting married to his partner of 20 years, also named Jim. I wrote about Jim in this 2005 column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Unfortunately, they planned their wedding reception on the Saturday following Thanksgiving when we had planned my dad’s 80th birthday celebration. After we decided to postpone my dad’s thing after Ron died, Stacy pressed me to go to our first same-sex wedding. Thanks to her prodding, we made a quick two-night trip to New York to honor great friends.
And we saw Wicked on Broadway.
A Solstice Hike
On December 22nd, I took an off-the-trail hike with three guys from work. The destination was a set of seldom-seen petroglyphs which included a “sun dagger” that marked the annual stages of the sun. We were a day past the actual winter solstice, but we did observe the shadows approaching high noon and documented the moment when the shadow line bisected the center of the square spiral – the highest point of the sun on the shortest day of the year.
Back to General Semantics, Part 2
In July, I received an out-of-the-blue email from Mary Lahman, Ph.D., a professor at Manchester University in Indiana. I met Mary in 2002 when she attended a GS seminar at Alverno College in Milwaukee. She wrote seeking my permission to use some excerpts from my e-book, Here’s Something About General Semantics, in a course textbook she was preparing for a course she’s taught since the 1990s. We exchanged a few collegial emails about the course, then I asked if she would be interested in teaching an online course on General Semantics via the Canvas Network. (Recall the “big push” Canvas was making to establish an extensive catalog of online course offerings.)
She enthusiastically agreed. Then I contacted Greg Thompson, Ph.D. at BYU (with whom I had corresponded for a few years and only just met in person in June on my way to Park City). He was also game for collaborating on an online course.
Based on the course that Mary taught at Manchester called Language and Thought, we agreed on a course title (General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior), a short catalog description, and submitted our proposal to Canvas in September. To my surprise, they immediately accepted it and we were off and running to develop the six-week course for a January 13, 2014, start date.
Speaking for myself, the course was an incredible experience that greatly exceeded whatever expectations I had. We put it an awful lot of hours, both in preparation and in execution. Here are some of the highlights:
We ended up with 1,325 total enrolled, with 575 enrolling after the course opened.
407 completed a pre-course demographic survey prepared by Canvas that reflected:
- Participation: only 43% expected to be “active participants”; the others described themselves as “passive participants, drop-ins, or observers”.
- 74% expected to spend less than 4 hours per week on the course.
- Education attained: short of a 4-year degree – 26%; 4-year degree – 24%; some graduate work – 8%; Masters – 26%; doctorate, JD, MD – 12%.
- English as primary language – 64% yes, 35% no.
- Location: North America – 49%; Western Europe – 22%; Eastern Europe (incl former Soviet Union) – 5%; South America and Australia/South Pacific – 4% each; Africa and East Asia – 2% each; Southeast Asia – 1%; Central America, Carribean, Middle East – each greater than 0 but less than 1%.
- Gender: 61% female, 38 % male.
- Age: 44% under 35; 33% between 35-54; 18% over 55
We had at least 120 individuals complete at least one of the six modules to earn a badge, and about 38 people from 14 countries earned the course badge.
- U.K. (incl Scotland)
- Saudi Arabia
It’s worth noting that completing each of the six modules required at least 2-3 hours per week of reading, watching, and participating in online discussions and assignments. So those who completed all six modules made a significant investment of time in the subject.
Mary, Greg, and I offered the course under a Creative Commons open license whereby our materials are available for anyone to use, provided they attribute the source of the material and offer it under the same open sharing license. The course remains available, without student content, on the Canvas Network site at https://learn.canvas.net/
On the Ides of March of 2014, I terminated my Facebook account. Of course, Facebook being Facebook, I can’t say for sure that my account is indeed “terminated” and if all of my photos, comments, posts, etc., are actually deleted or just in some unavailable-to-me hard drive in the cloud somewhere.
I had three primary reasons to just say no to Facebook:
- The immediacy of searching items on Amazon and then immediately seeing those same searched items displayed in my Facebook ads was unnerving.
- The tangled web of associated and linked accounts with my Facebook account was beyond my willingness, if not ability, to understand.
- I’m sympathetic to the premise and argument espoused by Jaron Lanier in his Who Owns the Future? In a nutshell, why should I be contributing my content at no cost to enrich others? Why shouldn’t I be paid for the content I’m providing?
(Speaking of my YouTube channel, last July I posted this clip from Mike Rowe’s appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. Amazingly-to-me, that clip has received 170,000 views and over 800 comments. I guess it resonates.)
Leaving the ’50s (Surprise!)
At the end of March, I planned a week off to return to the DFW area, as requested by my daughter. Apparently her request was not arbitrary, as it coincided with my 60th birthday. She arranged a surprise party which, all things considered, was about as good of a time for the surprised (me) as is possible with a surprise party. Here are some of the pics, taken primarily by Stacy and Mark Gunderson.
One of the many reasons I’ll be forever grateful to Stacy is that she collected 60 notes of memories and remembrances contributed by my family and friends. No matter where I go in my life meanderings, I’ll take those notes and memories. Thanks, Stace, and everyone who took the time to write something about me.
A 2012 song by the group Incognito has been banging around my head for the past few months. I think it could’ve been one of my theme songs for most of my adult life. It means something to me. I hope you might ponder it and consider, in whatever ways make sense for you, to “say goodbye to yesterday.”
I keep dreaming ’bout where I could be
About the places and the faces I’d see
This is bigger than myself
I know that no one else
Can do what’s clearly up to me.
It’s never too late to change your fate
Right here and now, I’m gonna turn my world around.
Well, I used to think I was stuck on red
Now I know that it was all in my head
But I’m done making excuses
Can’t fool myself, it’s useless
I’ll follow my own lead instead.